(Reuters) – Diplomacy will eventually work. But this is a process, not an event. The Big Bang Theory does not apply to nuclear diplomacy.
If there is no progress on peace on the Korean peninsula, the worst-case scenario is that US-North Korea exchanges, inter-Korean summit talks, and the US-North Korea summit in Singapore all end in a downturn. This will be a repetition of dialogue.
But in this case, the tipping point seems more likely.
It is easy to criticize the US-North Korea agreement as a “failure” for US President Donald Trump because it is vague and lacks concrete commitments to denuclearization.
However, this criticism is based on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s decision to freeze nuclear and missile tests, release American detainees, close ballistic missile test sites and open new ones.
It is easy to forget that not long ago North Korea sowed the horrors of a dark war by coercing nuclear tests.
Concluding that the US-North Korea summit in Singapore failed in the light of more detailed agreements and diplomatic efforts in the past ignores the reality that all past agreements have failed.
Just a few months ago, the US State Department’s special envoy for North Korea, Joseph Yin, who had been in charge of North Korea for many years, stepped down and was severely criticized for “hollowing out high-level personnel”. responsible for the Trump administration’s North Korea policy.”
The vacancy of the U.S. ambassador to South Korea has drawn similar criticism. The U.S. State Department has also seen a significant reduction in staff. (“The Trump administration has lost its ability to negotiate with other countries,” wrote one reporter.) The Council on Foreign Relations, a U.S. think tank, puts the chance of war on the Korean peninsula at 50 percent.
Success on the Korean peninsula, like the Cold War, depends on the continuation of the feeling that the war is getting further and further away.
The success of the Singapore summit was that the two countries met again and promised to talk further. The 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which itself did not include nuclear weapons, took 20 months to negotiate. A Cold War-era treaty required years of work by successive administrations.
Expecting more than promised to move into the next phase is not a view of history (would anyone have thought that Kim Jong-un would pack up nuclear weapons after the meeting and ship them out of the country?). No one vents all their frustrations on a first date.
The Singapore talks also showed that we should stay away from the now proven “linguistic tricks”. Neither President Trump nor Chairman Kim is crazy, and the words of the sometimes belligerent duo are just empty words. Looking ahead, the two leaders will need to balance conciliatory, forward-looking actions with harsh posturing aimed at domestic hardliners.
That said, the credibility of the recent diplomatic offensive as a North Korean ruse has diminished. “It’s rare for a small country to bluff against a big country,” notes one Cuban missile crisis researcher. “They can’t afford it.”
There are already factors that, if handled properly, will lead to future improvements. It includes young, Western-educated, multilingual people, and you might imagine yourself like Deng Xiaoping, the Chinese leader who provided a future for an isolated country while asserting its sovereignty. Also includes a talking North Korean leader.
“We decided to break with the past,” said Kim, who signed the joint statement with Trump.
Momentum for change is building in Pyongyang. In a quasi-market economy enriched by the dollar and renminbi, as more and more people can get information from foreign media, the middle-income class who are accustomed to consumption is growing and demanding change.
Plus an American president willing to break existing rules not to cooperate with North Korea. If you take a closer look, you will find that more than half of the conditions have been met.
Another important difference from the past is the presence of South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
Moon played a key role in convincing Washington that North Korea was a top-down regime and deserved to be treated as such, and first raised the possibility of a summit. At the April 27 inter-Korean summit, the main negotiating items for the Singapore meeting have been finalized. After Trump canceled the U.S.-North Korea talks on May 24, President Moon Jae-in traveled between Washington and Panmunjom on the military demarcation line to get the talks back on track. His diplomacy on the big stage, amid uneasy conversations, was brilliant.
No such middleman has existed in the history of nuclear negotiations.
President Moon Jae-in has filled a variety of roles, serving as a loyal intermediary, culturally, linguistically, historically and emotionally connected to fellow South Koreans and American allies, and as an unofficial adviser to Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump. Continuity will be a key stage for the next goal. Moon himself will be a vehicle for resolving issues that have derailed negotiations in the past.
“What didn’t happen” in Singapore is also important.
President Trump has done nothing great. The truth is, Mr Trump has no big chess board to play with. The United States agreed to suspend joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises, which had been strategically frozen in the past and could resume at any time. Either way, the real deterrent lies outside the Korean peninsula. The B-2 strategic bomber taking off from the Missouri base in the United States and the missile submarine lurking in the depths of the Pacific Ocean.
Mr Trump has not given Kim Jong Un any power. Encountering an enemy is not giving in. Diplomacy is not some magic legitimacy powder that the United States can sprinkle on the leaders of other countries. Like it or not, the summit was an acceptance of the reality that the Kim family has ruled the now nuclear-armed country for 70 years.
Trump’s decision to use the summit to start the peace process also deserves respect. To see the summit as a reward for a country that has “been doing well” is arrogant.
This thinking accumulated by successive governments has created a North Korea with hydrogen bombs and missiles that can reach the United States, and has kept North Korea in a state of war for a long time. In this sense, a top-down approach is an effective way forward. (Chinese history bears this out.)
It is extremely easy to dismiss the current US-North Korea summit. All you have to do is lie that North Korea will lie to you and Trump will respond with a tweet. The next step is harder to read carefully.
The United States must provide incentives for denuclearization.
The 2015 Iran nuclear deal is an example. Sanctions have been eased, trade has expanded and an asset freeze has been lifted as Iran begins to phase out testing, production and stockpiling of nuclear material.
Another example is 1991, when the United States provided financial support for the declaration, destruction, and final disposal of nuclear weapons in Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine. This includes finding new jobs for unemployed nuclear scientists to prevent them from selling their knowledge elsewhere.
But most importantly, Trump must convince Kim to trust him, given past cases against Iraq, Libya and, above all, Iran. Because at the heart of the need is something very specific. So far, the only historical example of South Africa completely abandoning its own development of nuclear weapons is South Africa in the era of white minority government. This was achieved when the decision was made to abolish apartheid (apartheid policy) entirely.
If President Trump took the advice of the left, he would, like past presidents, never leave his country. If he had followed the advice of the right, he would have stormed into a conference room and said, ‘Give up nukes.
North Korea develops nuclear weapons to ensure its survival. If the United States and South Korea want North Korea to give up such weapons, it needs a regime pledge to replace them.
Through this summit, the groundwork was laid. How Trump, Moon and Kim work to resolve this issue will be key to what happens next.
* The author has worked for the US State Department for 24 years. His publications include We Mean Good: How I Helped Lost the Battle of the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People.
*This column is the author’s personal opinion.
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