Unlike my colleague Aristophanes, I’m not going to hold my analysis on the Singapore summit. The future is uncertain, but the past can reasonably predict what’s to come for American-North Korean relations.
For someone who prides himself on being a tough negotiator and effective deal-maker, in Singapore, President Donald Trump was neither.
While the president deserves credit for getting North Korea to the negotiating table, he hasn’t accomplished much beyond that. During his 2016 campaign, he seemed optimistic about getting North Korea to denuclearize. The agreement he struck with the DPRK’s leader, Kim Jong-Un, won’t help much — it’s fairly light on substance.
Getting North Korea to affirm its commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is no feat. They’ve already promised as much. That prior document, the Panmunjom Declaration, signed between North and South Korea in April, doesn’t specify a timeline for denuclearization to occur.
Trump didn’t set a deadline, either.
Kim’s promise to denuclearize is an empty one. Without a specific time frame, how can the world verify he’s following through? Kim has no incentive to end his weapons program and might even risk falling from power if he does.
There’s precedent for such an outcome.
Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi, the Libyan dictator, agreed to transfer his nuclear equipment to American control during President George W. Bush’s first term. In 2011, his regime was toppled by rebels aided by the United States and its European allies. As a result, Qaddafi was hunted down and executed.
Why should Kim trust Trump for protection? The president promised to end the United States’ joint military exercises with the South, but he clearly doesn’t show respect for agreements, including the Paris climate accord, the Iran nuclear deal and the recently-signed G-7 communique — all of which Trump has withdrawn from.
Trump can’t be trusted to keep his word. Neither can Kim. What’s to stop this nuclear deal, which no international body can reasonably enforce, from completely falling apart?
Often, Trump treats our enemies worse than our allies. Negotiation is preferable to war, but we should refrain from alienating our friends in the process.
At the G-7 summit in Canada last weekend, Trump refused to play nice. First he arrived late, then he triggered controversy by calling for Russia’s reinstatement to the group, though the country has done nothing to reverse its annexation of the Ukrainian Crimea region, the original reason for its ouster. The American president doubled down on his no-win tariffs, then left leave early, signaling ambivalence toward the United States’ strongest allies and trading partners.
Trump should value American allies more than a human-rights violating East-Asian dictatorship.
Negotiation is nice, but at the end of the day, a limited and unenforceable agreement won’t change the fundamental misalignment of American and North Korean interests. ■