Why the Trump-Kim Summit was a Failure

The much anticipated summit between Kim Jong-Un and President Donald Trump came and went. Thankfully, Trump put on his big boy pants and got a serious framework for a deal which limits North Korea’s nuclear, ballistic missile, chemical and biological capabilities.

Actually, that‘s the column I wish I was writing. Instead I get to be my regular Debbie downer self and complain about how poorly the summit went.

The main outcome, in terms of policy substance, was the joint US-DPKR statement. While the full statement can be read here, I‘ll post and comment on the four main points below.

  1. The United States and the DPRK commit to establish new U.S.–DPRK relations in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity.
  2. The United States and the DPRK will join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.
  3. Reaffirming the April 27, 2018 Panmunjom Declaration, the DPRK commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
  4. The United States and the DPRK commit to recovering POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.

That all sounds good until you realize, as Bruce Klingner of the Heritage Foundation pointed out, “Each of the four main points was in previous documents with NK, some in a stronger, more encompassing way.”

Let’s look at the third point first since it will get most of the attention. Contrary to what state media will tell you, this is not North Korea agreeing to surrender its nuclear arsenal. Agreeing to denuclearize is different than actually denuclearizing and this is not even that. This is an agreement to “work toward” denuclearization (it is important to note that the statement does not define denuclearization nor was a definition agreed to before hand). This is nothing. As Mira Rapp-Hooper pointed out, this “loophole remains big enough for a road-mobile ICBM.”

In 2005, the Six Party talks agreed to “verifiable denuclearization” with North Korea specifically agreeing to “abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs and returning, at an early date, to the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons and to IAEA safeguards” — in other words, a significantly stronger agreement. Similarly, the 1992 Joint ROK-DPKR Declaration was the first to agree to denuclearization and the 1994 US-DPKR Agreed framework agreed to a “nuclear-free Korean peninsula”.  

The first two points are, again, not a major achievement. The 1993 Joint US-DPKR Statement agreed to “mutual respect for each other’s sovereignty” while the 1994 Agreed Framework included moving “toward full normalization of political and economic relations” and “peace and security on a nuclear-free Korean peninsula”. Similar sentiment can be seen in the 2000 Joint Communique and 2005 Six-Party Talks Joint Statement.

The fourth and final point, while valiant, is not that impressive. From 1996 to 2005, the US conducted thirty-three recovery operations in North Korea. So, this point is a valiant effort by the Trump, but it is not a major breakthrough.

At least Trump was kind enough to go-ahead and cut Kim his propaganda video for state TV and kissed his ass on national TV (“His country does love him. His people, you see the fervor. They have a great fervor.”)– twice (“he’s got a great personality. He’s a funny guy, he’s very smart, he’s a great negotiator. He loves his people, not that I’m surprised by that, but he loves his people.”). Someone has told him North Korea has over 100,000 prisoners in concentration camps? Right?

In short, Kim Jong-Un got a massive propaganda victory and had his country– a rogue nuclear state– on the same stage as the United States AND got Trump to abruptly cancel joint US-ROK exercises and in return he gave up absolutely nothing in return.

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