Could Cuba Stop its North Korean Friend?
What can be done to stop Kim Jong-un’s warmongering fanaticism?
By Jorge Gonzalez (Cafe Fuerte)
HAVANA TIMES — Dealing with North Korea has become a real headache for many international leaders. Concessions and a soft-handed approach haven’t stopped the North Korean Communist regime’s nuclear program; on the other hand, sanctions and threats have only served as an excuse for dictator Kim Jong-un to hike up his warmongering fanaticism.
What do you do to stop a maniac who is putting the life of the planet on tenterhooks with its intercontinental ballistic missile tests?
Nobody seems to have the answer and many politicians and military personnel are racking their brains trying to find a solution after everything (or nearly everything) has already been attempted.
Faced with this scenario, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has suggested that Cuba could play a role in solving this puzzle and therefore, is advocating for Raul Castro’s government to get involved in the matter.
In fact, Canada’s mediation in the Korean crisis, via Cuba, could be on the cards during the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Ottawa this Tuesday. When asked about the possibility of Canada even being able to create “a secondary channel to North Korea via Cuba”, a high-ranking US official left the door open to this “understandable option.”
An issue already taken up with Castro
Trudeau’s idea might leave many people perplexed, in the same way his praise for dictator Fidel Castro did, and his “sadness” and condolences for the death of someone he called an “old friend”.
According to Trudeau, he discussed the North Korean threat with Cuban President Raul Castro in November 2016, when the prime minister went on an official visit to the island.
In the Canadian leader’s eyes, the fact that Cuba has “decent diplomatic relations with the North Korean regime” could be an opportunity to “pass along messages through surprising conduits.”
“There hasn’t been a lot of discussion around that, but it was a topic of conversation when I met President Raul Castro last year,” Trudeau revealed.
No means to persuade Kim
However, thinking that Cuba could placate his North Korean “comrade” is, firstly, a bit of an exaggerated view of the influence that the Cuban government might be able to have on Kim Jong-un.
While it’s true that the Cuban communist regime is one of North Korea’s few allies and opposes nuclear weapon development, Cuba wouldn’t have anything to offer the North Korean tyrant in exchange for a detente in Asia.
The Caribbean island doesn’t even figure among North Korea’s top ten trade partners. The geographical distance between both nations makes it impossible to increase a mutually beneficial trade relationship.
Other countries, important trade partners with North Korea, have suspended their trade relations as a result of international pressure to halt Pyongyang’s nuclear program. For example, India, the country’s third most important trade partner, has prohibited the majority of negotiations with the North Korean regime, except for those relating to food and medicine.
Furthermore, North Korean citizens will no longer be able to go to India to receive political, military, police, scientific and technical training, like they had in the past.
Other important trade partners such as Singapore and the Phillipines have joined the long list of countries who are unwilling to continue to trade with Pyongyang and North Korean diplomats have been expelled from many countries.
Eat grass before giving up the atomic bomb
Not even China, North Korea’s main life support, which ordered the majority of North Korean businesses within its territory to be closed down as well as joint businesses with Chinese citizens, and who claimed that it would enforce the economic sanctions approved by the UN Security Council in full, seems to intimidate Kim Jong-un.
However, apparently, Kim knows that China doesn’t intend to go to the extreme lengths of cutting off oil exports and stifling its ally, even more so knowing that this ally has now become a nuclear power.
Plus, supposing that they set the scene from zero or gave a pitiful amount of support to Pyongyang, the North Korean dictator has given more than enough signs of being a pig-headed sick person who isn’t moved by the fact that the hunger and malnutrition which the North Korean population is currently suffering could reach a lot more chilling rates. This is one of the great differences between governing a democracy and being a cruel dictator.
Russian president Vladimir Putin, another of the North Korean’s strong supports, has defined this with eloquent precision when he said: “They would prefer to eat grass before giving up their nuclear program.” And this is not just a hyperbole.
Korea isn’t Colombia
It’s very likely that Trudeau is thinking about the role Cuba played in Colombia’s peace negotiations process, when it offered Havana as a base for discussing an agreement between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and to be an international “guarantor” in this process.
However, you can’t even begin to compare Kim Jong-un to Juan Manuel Santos, the president of a democracy, or even with the FARC, which in spite of committing crimes against the civilian population, who had nothing to do with the conflict, was able to put its narrow ideology to one side so as to reach an agreement that was acceptable to both parties.
This is not the case with Kim Jong-un. Every round of sanctions or possibility of a discussion at the UN about North Korea, just makes him become even more entrenched in his warmongering fanaticism. And if the international community chooses not to pressure him, then this leader will see he has free reign to make his wild dreams of being a nuclear power come true.
Cuba in North Korea’s reflection
So, in the face of ineffective strategies to try and stop him, maybe Canadian prime minister Trudeau is thinking that Cuba could contribute towards North Korea trusting the guarantee that the United States and South Korea are not waiting for the first sign of weakness to carry out a military attack with the aim of overthrowing Kim Jong-un, who the White House believes to be a deluded madman.
While it’s true that in the Colombian case, those involved in the negotiations process have claimed that Cuba contributed to building up trust between the opponents, this was still a national conflict between the Colombian government and a communist guerrilla group. In the North Korean case, this is a conflict between the Pyongyang government, the US and West in general.
It would be extremely hard for Cuba, especially at this point in time when its relations with the US are back in crisis, to get out of Donald Trump the promise that he isn’t orchestrating an attempt to overthrow Kim’s regime and promote a transition to the democracy that the North Korean people so desperately need.
And in the hypothetical scenario that the Castro regime does decide to go ahead with this and manages to achieve the desired result, it would then outrightly be denying the reasons that its communist propaganda has always used to keep themselves in power. For over half a century, the Cuban government has blamed the United States for all the problems this Caribbean country faces in order to save its poor governance, government corruption, the regime’s excessive control on all sectors and the nation’s resources and the usurpation of democracy.
A defense strategy
An analysis of the conflict between North Korea and the West, recently published by US magazine Foreign Policy, explains that in the wake of the failure of every strategy employed to try and stop Kim, the only thing left to try would be “a posture of strategic reassurance”, which persuaded other countries like Germany, Japan and South Korea to abstain from arming themselves with nuclear weapons.
According to Alton Frye, the author of the article, if Pyongyang defends its nuclear program basing itself on the fear that the United States and South Korea are planning an attack to overthrow Kim’s regime, and on the other hand, Washington says that this is completely absurd and explicitly denies that this is its intention, then “perhaps it is time to explore a different initiative.” Could China reassure North Korea as the United States reassures South Korea, the analyst asks, adding that Beijing could, for example, deploy 30,000 military personnel to be stationed there, a total comparable to U.S. forces stationed south of the 38th parallel.
The problem would reside in whether China actually wanted to move ahead in this direction and whether North Korea would be willing to accept its neighbor’s military presence within its national territory. History has shown that China has no intention whatsoever to occupy North Korea. After taking part in the Korean War in the ‘50s, Chinese forces were withdrawn.
However, while it’s true that North Koreans owe a lot to the Chinese, they also harbor suspicion and mistrust when it comes to the Asian giant.
Could Cuba, along with China and other powers involved in the conflict, contribute to placating stubborn Kim and sit him down to negotiate responsibly?
Kim Jong-un ignored Fidel Castro
A few years ago, Fidel Castro tried, unsuccessfully. In April 2014, in one of his reflections published in Cuban official press, Fidel Castro urged North Korea and the United States to avoid a nuclear catastrophe.
His call to constraining a US president was nothing surprising. The surprise then was the fact that the former Cuban leader had publicly reminded Kim Jong-un of his responsibility in this matter, and how he should be consistent with the unconditional support that Cuba had offered him.
“Now that (North Korea) has proven its technological and scientific advances, we must remind them of their duties to the countries who have been their great friends, and it wouldn’t be fair to forget that such a war would affect 70% of the global population,” Fidel Castro wrote.
However, Kim Jong-un couldn’t care less for the advice given by the president of one of North Korea’s greatest allies, and someone who had previously expressed admiration for his father, Kim Jong-il.
It’s a well-known fact that Fidel Castro, regardless of the dictatorship he built in Cuba, was considered by many of his colleagues to be a well-versed figure in international politics, equipped with a certain personal prowess to convince and rally support for many of his ideas. This isn’t exactly one of the skills his brother can boast.
Whatever Trudeau’s plan may be, it won’t be easy to put it into practice bearing in mind the suspicions of all those involved. However, if his project does manage to satisfy the objections presented by North Korea up until now, it would definitely be a new opportunity to sound out what Kim’s real intentions are: reaching an agreement which ensures the safety and wellbeing of everyone, or continue living out his wild nuclear dreams.