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Eureka: Peace at last on the Korean peninsula?
by Joseph Gatt
2018-03-17 10:09:47
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Developments on the Korean peninsula in Q & A format.

Question: the North Koreans seem to have opted to come to the negotiation table. Why now? And what will be discussed?

Let me divide the answer in three parts. First I'll discuss domestic North Korean political developments, the North-South Korean relations and finally North Korea's relations with the United States.

koria01_400First regarding North Korean domestic politics. If you're a statesman, especially one in Kim Jung Un's shoes, you will have one thing on your mind, which is preventing a coup d'état. In politics, to prevent a coup d'état, you have to make sure that your secret services are well fed (by secret services I mean presidential protection) then that your intelligence services are well fed and finally that your army is well fed. You also have to give incentives and make sure that there's group harmony. So when there's a change in leadership, people know things will change, and if you've been in leadership positions, you know how it works. You start off with unpopular measures, then you make sure the group adapts to the new measures, then you try to make the group happy. So it was a turbulent six and so years for Kim Jung Un, but by all means people who have been to North Korea, especially to Pyongyang, seem to have noticed that the country has reached something of group harmony, at least that's what they are shown. North Koreans seem comfortable and accustomed to Kim Jung Un in power, and it's now a fact of life.

In terms of North-South relations, a few variables come to play. First, the conservative class of politicians, very much anti-North Korean, who had almost belligerent views on North Korea, are now retiring. Those born in the 1930s and 1940s who experienced the Korean war first hand are now either retired or at best they are writing newspaper op-eds. Very few of them are at the South Korean National Assembly. South Korea also put a system in place in the 1990s where public servants were guaranteed lifetime employment and retirement benefits in exchange for political abstainance and administrative efficiency. So few of them ventured into political careers, meaning today's politicians have often been at the National Assembly for decades now, or rose their way up to the National Assembly from local mandates. This means the political family is kind of a family, and when Park Geun Hye was going wild few dared criticize her even in the opposition. That led to more victories for the conservatives in different elections, as people were tired of liberals who did not dare to speak up against the conservative president. For North Korea, a South Korean political family is easier to negotiate with than say a group of political newbees trying to impress their electorate with wild speeches or token measures.

As for the United States, North Korea holds the view that the Americans started the whole mess. But there has been a movement of historians arguing that it was a lot more complicated than that. Now that North Korea has tested Donald Trump's administration, and realized that Trump was not bluffing and North Korea could be the next Iraq and Afghanistan, North Korea vaguely decided to come to the negotiation table. North Korea also knows that Donald Trump is inflexible with denuclearization, weapons control and perhaps a peace treaty to replace the truce that was signed in 1953. North Korea might also argue that they will need guarantees as to not becoming the next Crimea and of stable relations with Russia and China.

Question: what are the cultural and other factors that might affect the negotiation?

Answer: I have been in several mock negotiations with Koreans. They start by saying yes to every request made. Say whatever the Americans might request, they will say yes at first. Then when the negotiation is about to end they will tend to try to back away from their concessions and will try to get the other side to give them concessions. They could do that by dragging the negotiation until the wee hours of the night, or perhaps try to reach concessions at the airport when the negotiators are about to leave, or even back away from concessions after verbal agreements have been made. The problem is that the boss sets a target, and his negotiating team have to meet the targets, and will be scared of going to their boss and saying the targets were not met.

Question: So what's the best negotiation tactic with the Koreans?

Answer: First, and very important point, is to insist that the members of the negotiating team are a family and that no member will be dropped. Koreans are notorious for identifying skilled or tough negotiators and for asking they be dropped off the team or the negotiations will cease. There's an image I remember where an old Korean lady asks an American mother of 11 or 12 children if she can have one of the children. No Says the American lady, which left the Korean lady upset. Of course the Korean lady was joking, but she expected the American lady to say yes, although she still expected the American lady to keep her children of course. So the idea is to use a lot of “maybe” “perhaps why not” and other formulas like “we will discuss that point and give you an answer at a later date.” Turning down Korean requests bluntly can lead negotiations to break down, when the goals are obviously clear. If there are negotiations, the goal needs to be that negotiations will be successful. So the best strategy would be slow negotiations, but sticking to intial demands. At least that's how the Koreans do it. With time though, Koreans could end up giving up on certain demands, and the idea would be to delay negotiations, at least that of certain points. Koreans hate waiting and being left hanging.

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