Arguably no 4 phrases are higher calculated to blow up the heads of liberals the world over than “Donald Trump’s Nobel Prize.” That was motive sufficient for hundreds of Trump devotees to chant “Nobel! Nobel!” at a weekend political rally in Michigan. His putative declare on the laurel had come days earlier, when the entire world noticed North Korea’s Kim Jong Un try a clumsy hug with South Korean chief Moon Jae-in on the conclusion of their summit.
Kim is a third-generation despot recognized for ordering senior officers executed by capturing them at shut vary with antiaircraft hearth. So any hug, regardless of how awkward, goes to appear to be a momentous breakthrough, and President Donald Trump’s crew is after all going to credit score his Twitter diplomacy.
Liberal heads additionally went blooey again in 1906, when one other brash, rich, self- selling New York Republican president acquired a Nobel Peace Prize. In line with keepers of the Nobel information, “the Norwegian Left argued that [Theodore] Roosevelt was a ‘army mad’ imperialist who accomplished the American conquest of the Philippines. Swedish newspapers wrote that Alfred Nobel was handing over his grave.”
What’s most pertinent about this parallel shouldn’t be how a lot or how little Trump resembles this position mannequin. (It’s attainable Roosevelt wrote extra books than Trump has learn.) As a substitute, the important thing takeaway is that Roosevelt gained his peace prize for mediating an settlement involving the way forward for Korea. Greater than a century later, the U.S. president continues to be engaged on the identical drawback. This straightforward truth ought to present the triumphalists pause.
For all of the deal with persona — “Little Rocket Man” and so forth — Korea’s future as a worldwide drawback patch is dictated by its geography greater than its leaders. It’s the strategic peninsula the place imperial powers converge. Korea shields China’s important ports on the Yellow Sea; it lures Russia with the hope of warm-water entry to the Pacific; it juts on the Japanese house islands “like a dagger pointed on the coronary heart,” as one army strategist put it sharply. Dominated for hundreds of years by China, Korea discovered itself on the crossroads of two wars within the decade between 1895 and 1905, and nothing afterward has resembled true peace.
Roosevelt’s position in ending the second of these two wars, between Russia and Japan, led to his Nobel Prize and left the peninsula underneath Japanese sway. Over the subsequent technology, that sway deteriorated into an more and more brutal occupation, ending solely with Japan’s defeat in World Battle II. After Tokyo’s give up in 1945, the victorious United States divided the peninsula with the Soviet Union, making a buffer zone between the rival superpowers, however the tense coexistence failed. A savage warfare within the early 1950s carried the world to the nuclear brink and by no means formally ended.
For all of the hopes Trump will carry into his proposed summit with Kim — hopes for peace, denuclearization and even visions of eventual unification — this tangled skein of historical past and geography presents some formidable knots. On a scale of problem from one to 10, this can be a 13. Take into account only a few of the intractable questions dealing with the U.S. crew:
First, what’s Kim’s future? Right now, he is absolutely the ruler of an impoverished however militarily harmful nation protected by his personal arms and the suzerainty of China. Like his father and grandfather, he holds energy by wielding violence, favoritism and propaganda, whereas preserving his individuals on a continuing wartime footing. How, precisely, does he match this family-business mannequin into any imaginative and prescient of a peaceable, unified Korea by which the rich, open South would have overwhelming financial superiority?
Second, how can international powers reconcile competing pursuits in Korea over the long run with out a everlasting division, and the attendant menace of renewed tensions? Since November 1950, when China despatched a whole lot of hundreds of ill-equipped troops throughout the Yalu River in human waves, Beijing has made clear it is going to by no means settle for U.S. dominance of the peninsula. Over the identical interval, the USA has invested huge blood, treasure and human sources in constructing the South right into a dynamic democracy. If the intense line of the 38th Parallel is to be progressively erased, as Kim and Moon agreed in obscure however idealistic language, how will these competing commitments be separated?
And supposing that the USA can by some means coexist with China in a peaceable Korea, how does Russia match into the combination? The struggling however proud petro-state has designs on turning Korea into a significant buyer, and maybe a transshipment hub for its pure gasoline. There may be friction throughout the globe the place Russia rubs towards the West. Can or not it’s safely managed within the tinderbox of Korea?
The whole lot we’ve got seen previously few months, we’ve seen earlier than. The North Koreans pause their arms buildup. The South Koreans prolong their palms. Guarantees of peace are exchanged.
This has occurred repeatedly as a result of it’s the straightforward half. What comes subsequent is devilishly tough. And if Trump pulls it off — actually, lastingly — he’ll deserve the prize.