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Trump-Kim summit vindicates Cold War doctrine of deterrence

India June 13(IM): The Trump-Kim summit, unthinkable just a few months ago, is yet more vindication of the Cold War doctrine of deterrence where the capacity and threat to inflict pain augments the force of diplomacy, and can prompt ‘rogue’ regimes to display a strong survival instinct.

After warning one another of nuclear annihilation, US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un agreed to work out a deal that includes US security guarantees in exchange for de-nuclearisation.

While Kim takes back a lot, having broken bread with Trump, he has seen the merits of striking a deal that lets him keep charge of the hermit state he controls.

The strategic insights of game theory experts like Thomas Schelling that shaped deterrence remain relevant as Trump constantly piled the pressure on Kim through a range of threats, from the ones he acted on like tough sanctions and others like strikes on North Korean facilities that he didn’t.

Even as it is not easy to map the internal faultlines of Kim’s regime, the US did enough to get him to turn up in Singapore. The continued utility of deterrence also shows that despite its seductive argument, the campaign for abolishing nuclear weapons, which won aNobel last year, is a laudable but impractical ideal.

In a world where leaders like Kim and nations like Pakistan have used nuclear weapons as a means of blackmail to overcome asymmetries in conventional warfare, the “go to zero” move may remain on paper. If things turn out well, Trump will be encouraged to pursue similar tough terms with Iran.

Schelling, who won the economics Nobel in 2005, developed the concept of manipulating risk, or forcing an adversary to consider the consequences of his actions. Kim made nuclear brinksmanship an instrument of foreign policy.The primary objective, as Schelling put it, was to use deterrence as the “art of coercion and intimidation”.

Kim used it too, setting off insecurities within South Korea and Japan of a possible missile strike. North Korea’s war-like acts, like the torpedoing of a South Korean corvette, did not result in any retaliatory strike, emboldening the Stalinist state. It required the hard edge of military threats and the risk of internal implosion of its economy that got Kim to make a bold play — seeking direct talks with the US.


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