In this special Policy Forum Rapid Round-up, experts help sort the substance from the spectacle of the historic Trump-Kim meeting.
It was the off-again on-again meeting that has ignited the world’s inspiration and indignation. On Tuesday 12 June, Donald Trump shook hands with Kim Jong-un – the first time in history that a North Korean leader has met with a sitting US President. The two leaders who only last year traded threats and insults sat down for face-to-face talks on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
So what did the two leaders actually agree to? Is the meeting another major step toward peace and denuclearisation on the Korean Peninsula, or a continuation of the status quo? And what happens now? We asked the experts.
On this week’s special National Security Podcast Extra, Michael Cohen spoke with Chris Farnham about the Trump-Kim meeting in Singapore. They discussed whether international legitimacy matters for the North Korean regime, how the longevity of Trump’s presidency could bear on the nuclear negotiations, and what leaders in China, Japan and South Korea might be thinking in the wake of the summit. Listen here: http://bit.ly/natsec1-0
Historic summit, less-than-historic outcome
“Finally, US President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Chairman Kim Jong-un have met for their historic summit in Singapore. Trump and Kim signed a joint statement after the summit. This ‘historic’ document contains four agreements: establish new US-DPRK relations; build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula; reaffirm the 27 April, 2018 Panmunjom Declaration, with the DPRK committing to work toward complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula; and recover the remains of prisoners of war and soldiers declared missing in action during the Korean War, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.
“In his opening remarks, President Trump said that the summit will be “tremendously successful.” Does the summit deserve such an evaluation? Far from it. The summit was historic, but the outcomes were less-than-historic – even disappointing.
“First of all, the signed statement provided only vague pledges to denuclearise – “President Trump committed to provide security guarantees to the DPRK, and Chairman Kim Jong Un reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
“This phrase is almost a repetition of what the two Koreas agreed in the April 27 Panmunjom Declaration, which said “South and North Korea confirmed the common goal of realizing, through complete denuclearization, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.”
“Hence, from a CVID (complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization) standpoint, the signed statement lacks any details on denuclearisation goals and process. There was no mention of either denuclearisation time frames or inspection and verification procedures. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo emphasised the day before the summit that CVID is the only outcome the US can accept, adding that the ‘V’ is particularly important. His pledge promises that there will be a series of long and arduous follow-up negotiations between the US and DPRK negotiation teams.”
“Reality is sometimes beyond our imagination. Last year when Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un were involved in a war of words sharply criticising each other, we never imagined that the two leaders would ever be able to meet face-to-face and talk about opening a new chapter for the two long-term adversaries.
“During the 12 June summit, the first ever between a sitting US president and a North Korean leader, Trump and Kim put forward their first steps on dismantling the 70-year old Cold War regime in Korea since the Peninsula was divided in 1948. This summit, accompanied by the Panmunjom Declaration in April between the two Koreas, signals a great geopolitical shift in Northeast Asia.
“On a practical level, the joint statement of the Trump-Kim summit remains somewhat vague because it does not contain concrete arrangements or a roadmap on denuclearisation and security guarantees. However, such a meeting between the top leaders from Washington and Pyongyang can be one of the most effective confidence-building measures which would allow the implementation of the agreement. Trump also appears to accept the necessity of a phased approach toward denuclearisation, instead of demanding Pyongyang to immediately hand over or dismantle all their nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles. This is at least a positive signal for the time being.
“Both Trump and Kim need to make this deal a success for domestic reasons. To succeed, more concrete work needs to be done at the working level, and South Korea and other regional powers should be appropriately informed and consulted. In this sense, the coming weeks or months will be critical to see how sincere and ready the two countries are to bring peace to the Korean Peninsula.”
“The Trump-Kim Summit was indeed an extraordinary event, as it gave state leaders as controversial as Trump and Kim the opportunity to meet each other in person.
“On a positive note, such personal contact gives the leaders a chance to better understand the intentions of the other side and even build interpersonal trust. On the other hand, the outcome of the summit is yet to be determined, with no substantive proposals included in the declaration, no road map towards verifiable denuclearisation, and no mention of addressing human rights violations.
“However, the summit may be taken as the beginning of an actual dialogue between Kim Jong-un and the international community, and I’m optimistic about this beginning. Kim clearly demonstrates his willingness to start a conversation with regional and international partners. His previous encounters with Xi Jinping and Moon Jae-in, as well as a possible future meeting with Vladimir Putin (Kim was given an invitation to visit the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok in September), are evidence that summitry has significant potential, and that now is the time for dialogue.
“The positive dynamic for the Peninsula and the whole region should be praised, encouraged, and further developed. Beside summitry, the international community might consider using different approaches in dealings with North Korea. For example, soft power and non-traditional diplomacy through cultural, scientific, educational, and other people-to-people exchanges might help to gradually open up North Korea. Such exchanges could potentially bridge the ideological and cultural gap between the people of North Korea and the rest of the world.
“If Kim is serious in his intentions to cooperate with the world, then the world, in turn, should not alienate him but engage with him instead.”
“Back in January, I expressed my skepticism towards the authenticity of Kim Jong-un’s outburst of conciliatory diplomacy. The Kim-Trump summit on 12 June has not changed my mind.
“Kim has emerged as the clear victor from the talks: Trump treated him as an equal, lauded his “talented” leadership, stated that American-South Korean military exercises would stop, pledged to establish new relations with North Korea, and indicated that an invitation to the White House would be forthcoming.
“Kim has further been coddled by numerous other foreign leaders and has shifted his international image from inhuman pariah to global statesman. This has cost him little – just some vague commitments towards “complete denuclearisation” and peacebuilding in the Korean Peninsula. No definitions of what these promises mean, how they will be implemented, or how they will be verified were given.
“Moreover, no references were made to North Korea’s appalling record of human rights abuses, state-sponsored terrorism, international crime, and cyber-attacks. Ultimately, Trump has cozied up to a nuclear-armed totalitarian dictator but has achieved less than both Clinton and Bush before him (commemorative coin notwithstanding).
“In the short term, it is better that the two leaders are talking rather than rattling nuclear sabers. But really, the summit has just supplied Kim with some breathing space while kicking the nuclear problem upstream. That may change in the future, if Trump can somehow extract more compelling concessions, but for now there is no evidence of a breakthrough.”
“The historic Trump-Kim meeting, the first between a serving US president and a North Korean leader, raises hopes that seven decades of hostility between the US and North Korea can be overcome and that tensions on the Korean Peninsula and the region can be diffused. Like all of us, Trump and Kim are flawed individuals but they deserve the kudos for this meeting. Talking is infinitely better than confrontation.
“This said, we ignore the history of US-North Korean contact at our peril. We have seen this before, in 1994 when North Korea signed the Agreed Framework and in 2003, when North Korea agreed to enter into the six-party talks.
“The aspirations in the Trump-Kim joint statement are appropriate for the occasion and are very similar to the Panmunjom Declaration issued by South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un at their inter-Korean Summit in April.
“Now the really hard work begins. Decades of hostility and mistrust cannot be overcome in one meeting. The US and North Korea must now engage in ongoing dialogue and create an environment that will allow them to argue out their differences.
“Comprehensive agreements on some issues appear improbable or, at best, will require long negotiations spanning years, not months. North Korea is unlikely to give up its nuclear weapons and missile arsenal, meaning the US and the regional powers will have to accept a nuclear North Korea as part of a regional resolution.
“If the US, North Korea and the other regional powers recognise that a substantial agreement will only be possible if they accept that none of them will get everything they want, there are enough common interests between them that genuine reconciliation is possible. Only then can these protagonists hope to be able to manage their differences and move beyond the impasse of the first seventy years of US-North Korean relations. This way everyone wins. The alternative means everyone loses.”
“The Trump-Kim summit made for a momentous day, for all sorts of reasons. The fact that these two leaders met is a huge and positive step forward from the “fire and fury” of 2017. Kim Jong-un’s participation in a diplomatic event of this magnitude has certainly lifted his status internationally and at home.
“However, the declaration signed by both parties left a great many important questions unanswered. It is still unclear what denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula actually means and what it would look like in practice. Trump’s hour-long press conference shed little light on key timelines and details for further negotiations and implementation, while he made numerous unsupported claims about his confidence in Kim Jong-un’s commitment to start a new process “very quickly”.
“Trump also deflected questions on human rights at least three times during the press conference, refusing to offer any clarity on what, if anything, was discussed on this matter. If North Korea is to achieve genuine normalisation in relations with the US and the international community, it is going to have to address the systematic human rights abuses that are fundamental to the regime’s control over its people. Despite being an unpopular topic with North Korean state representatives, human rights are fundamentally linked to nuclear weapons development and the security of the North Korean state. Immense financial resources have been devoted to the nuclear program while 70 per cent of the North Korean population remains food insecure, according to the World Food Program.
If Trump’s claims about forthcoming progress come to fruition and sanctions are lifted, members of the international community who engage in economic development assistance and humanitarian aid in North Korea have a crucial opportunity to attach conditions related to human rights to their provisions. Only when we see improvement on this front can we assume that North Korea is genuine in claiming that this time is different.”
“The Trump-Kim Summit was long on optics and short on substance.
“Beijing will be delighted by the outcome as the Trump-Kim agreement will make a military option to denuclearising North Korea a non-starter. This serves Beijing well as we are returning to the status quo.
“Status quo or more diplomacy means Beijing can argue that severe sanctions are no longer necessary as Pyongyang is engaging in good faith diplomacy, and as a result, China will loosen if not remove sanctions in the coming months.
“Diplomacy means Beijing’s major concern about a conflict on its border is unlikely and the likelihood of Pyongyang flipping much less probable. It can now use economic enticements to court Pyongyang and ensure it does not endanger China’s core interests.
“The agreement said nothing about the Complete, Verifiable, Irreversible Denuclearisation (CVID) of North Korea, and only mentioned it in the context of the Korean Peninsula in general. This basically repeats Pyongyang’s longstanding position and is not essentially any movement in Trump’s direction.
“This kind of agreement is in line with Chairman Kim’s father and grandfather’s definition of denuclearisation – that is, the denuclearisation of the Peninsula and surrounding region including Japan.
“Going forward, Beijing will encourage Pyongyang’s diplomacy and provide economic incentives to ensure they commit to diplomacy. This suits Pyongyang, as they have a nuclear strategic deterrent and it allows the Kim regime to pursue the second pillar of the byungjin strategy – namely economic development.
“Japan should be relieved, on the one hand, that denuclearisation is returning to incremental diplomacy rather than a rushed bad agreement. On the other hand, Tokyo is still apprehensive about Washington’s theatre diplomacy and lack of details in the ahistoric agreement.
“Last minute remarks by President Trump concerning the pausing of joint training between South Korea and the US are not such a give-away considering we just had the annual drills. Additionally, Trump can wait a year to see if Kim is fulfilling his side of the very-late-on-substance agreement before resuming drills.
“Trump will claim a victory, but the agreement itself is much the same as previous ones, meaning he was not a deal-maker as he proudly bragged. He doesn’t need to sell the agreement to his base but to his domestic political opponents and key allies in the region.
“Kim, on the other hand, has achieved what his father and grandfather could only dream of: a face-to-face meeting with the US President as a nuclear peer. This will garner him ample political capital to push through incremental economic reforms.
“We are now back to the status quo until both sides engage in reciprocal confidence-building measures. This will take time, good diplomacy and insulation from domestic politics in the US to ensure that the conditions for denuclearisation can be established.
“I strongly believe there will be no rapid denuclearisation for the Peninsula. Pyongyang would have to agree to highly intrusive inspections including in prison and labour camps. This would reveal the depth of human right abuses in North Korea and the nature of the regime itself. Sustaining political support for engaging with such a regime would be a daunting task, even for the ‘America First’ President.”
“The Trump-Kim summit was the diplomatic event of the year – if not the decade. International expectations were running high for a resolution to the nuclear tensions that have plagued US-DPRK relations and Northeast Asia at large for decades.
“Can we now look forward to a denuclearised North Korea? Not just yet. In the short term, at best we are likely to see a reduction in – and ideally, a cessation of – North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests. And while denuclearisation is not an impossibility in the long term, it will be a fraught and protracted process and one that would likely take years.
“The most important development that could flow from the summit would be the normalisation of US-North Korean relations. This would provide the most solid foundation for the two leaders to navigate diplomatically the treacherous path to denulearisation.”