The unparalleled summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un and US President Donald Trump has certainly driven on optics. It was not long ago when the two leaders were threatening each other with nuclear war. The Trump-Kim summit was an extremely surprising breakthrough for two men who had called each other names such as “dotard” and “little rocket man.” Despite all this, historic talks took place between the two leaders on 12 June in Singapore where they indulged in warm handshakes and displayed confidence about a new future. Trump said, “Yesterday’s conflict doesn’t have to be tomorrow’s war,” and “We are ready to write a new chapter between our nations.”
However, the journey to this point has been quite dramatic. A few weeks ago Trump had cancelled the summit citing the North’s insults directed at US Vice-President Mike Pence. But plans to attend the summit were resumed after leaders of North and South Korea met for the second time in a month. The fact that the Singapore summit will ease tensions in East Asia cannot be denied. Following the spirit of the summit, Kim has made non-specific commitments about giving up Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons while Trump too has committed to drop war games in South Korea that set Pyongyang’s nerves on edge.
It would be a remarkable achievement if Trump were to preside over such a verifiable and comprehensive “denuclearisation,” whilst also “building a stable and lasting regime on the continent” which would involve sealing a treaty between North and South to supplement the truce ending the 1950-53 Korea War. This would only be possible if Kim sticks to the spirit of the Tuesday’s agreement and abandon North Korea’s nuclear programme in exchange for US economic aid and security guarantees.
However, much ambiguity remains in the text signed in Singapore and any final, comprehensive deal between Washington and Pyongyang is months if not possible several years away. The summit said,“There’s still a long way to go before complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation of the North is achieved.”
Unlike usual summits attended by past US Presidents, the Singapore meet did not conclude a comprehensive agreement. The joint document inked by Trump and Kim included an unclear commitment to work towards denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and an equally obscure US commitment to provide security guarantees to the North. Most of the burden has been left on negotiations to work out the details and the process of denuclearisation itself.
Also Trump’s international actions have been much more defined by the deconstruction of policies of previous Presidents like Obama, rather than building something new. This is reflected from a number of instances like recently he withdrew US participation from the nuclear agreement between Iran and the US, China, Russia, UK, France and Germany. He also withdrew Washington from Paris climate change deal agreed by over 170 nations.
Trump chooses to do things differently as compared to that of other US Presidents. However Trump’s decision to meet Kim personally at the Singapore summit poses less likely a possibility that he will threaten to rain fire and fury on the North. Hopefully, Kim too will remain restrained about missile and rocket launches, thereby providing the Koreans and Japanese with a peace of mind and sound sleep at night. However Trump has acquired a reputation for unpredictability as he has mostly torn up international agreements with friends and foes alike. But on a paradoxical note, Trump’s unpredictability may have made the Singapore summit possible, because if any other President would have been in his place he would have been cautious before engaging with the North without a concrete plan.
So the summit leaves behind the question, will Pyongyang give up its nukes in lieu of US guarantees which could be rejected at any point?
Hammond, Andrew. “Trick of Treat.” The Times of India. Wednesday, June 13, 2018.