June 11, 2018

June 11, 2018

Trump’s Korea Diplomacy: A Catastrophic Success? Basically, there are two possibilities for Donald Trump’s Singapore Summit with Kim Jong-Un. Either Trump gets annoyed at Little Rocket Man, and storms out. Or the two leaders pretend to have made real progress.

What is out of the question is genuine steps towards nuclear disarmament on the peninsula—first, because it’s not possible to get that done in a brief summit meeting, especially with a leader as cavalier about details as Trump; and secondly, because there is no good formula for getting what both sides profess to demand.

The grail for North Korea is ridding the entire peninsula of nuclear weapons and drastically cutting the U.S. troop presence in the South. In return, Kim has talked about dismantling his own arsenal. But of course the devil is in the details.

If Kim does agree to disarm—and that has to mean both weapons and delivery vehicles—in exchange for security guarantees, what on earth could those guarantees be? Remember, the United States is a great power that double-crossed both Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi and the Iranians, after making solemn arms-control deals. 

And what nations would be responsible for enforcing the guarantees? The always-trustworthy Chinese? Maybe Trump’s pal, Putin? Surely not the European Union.

What is more likely is the simulation of a deal, with a declaration of broad principles, details to come later. That would serve the interests of both Trump and Kim, who have in common that they are world-class cynics.

Trump could claim a diplomatic breakthrough, burnishing his stature as a dealmaker who succeeds by breaking conventions and norms. Kim could enhance his stature as the North Korean leader whom the mighty United States agreed to treat as an equal.

The only problem is that any such breakthrough would be fake news at best, and dangerous capitulation at worst. How fitting for the Trump era.