On Tuesday 12 June, President Trump and Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un met for an unprecedented summit in Singapore. With the eyes of the world watching, Trump and Kim sat down to discuss US-DPRK relations, peace for the Koreas, as well as the denuclearisation of the peninsula, implying Kim Jong-un’s commitment to complete nuclear disarmament. Unsurprisingly, the Trump administration was quick to claim victory, heralding a new era of detente with one of the most dangerous members of the international community.
However, Trump’s (many) critics were not convinced of the summit’s success. For example, the agreement that the two leaders signed was rather vague and Kim Jong-un is far from trustworthy, which has led some to dismiss his promises of disarmament as little more than empty words. This therefore begs an important question: should we be impressed by the Trump-Kim summit?
I do have sympathy for the naysayers, as Trump hasn’t actually won any concrete concessions from the North Korean regime. Peaceful words and sentiments are all well and good, but there was no mention of replacing the uneasy armistice with a formal peace treaty that would end the Korean War. Kim Jong-un could quite easily repudiate the agreement in a few years’ time, or even in a few months, and force the President back to square one. It’s also worth mentioning that the summit falls far short of what Trump boasted it would be and, given that the summit was not going to go ahead at all until very recently, I can forgive those that aren’t convinced of Trump’s success.
Another major point of contention lies in the aim of denuclearisation. Nuclear disarmament is crucial in securing a lasting peace between the Koreas, but the ambiguous wording of the summit agreement makes this difficult. The agreement did not, for example, call for the complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement (CVID) of the DPRK’s nuclear arsenal, which has been a goal of American foreign policy since George W Bush’s administration. Further, it is unclear what ‘denuclearisation’ means in this case: it could just mean Kim Jong-un surrendering his nuclear arsenal, but it could also mean the withdrawal of US nuclear weapons from South Korea, too. Neither were stipulated, and this ambiguity means that the agreement does not greatly differ from previous promises the US and the DPRK have made to each other.
However, despite the scepticism surrounding the summit, I am optimistic and yes, a little impressed. We should not forget that this is the first time an American president has met a member of the Kim dynasty, which is a great diplomatic achievement in and of itself, whichever way you look at it. North Korea is a failed state, a rogue nation, and one of the biggest current threats to world peace. Just getting Kim Jong-un to sit at a table with a Western leader is an incredible feat, and not something that should be dismissed out of hand.
We shouldn’t have expected the world from this summit, either. Whilst expectations were certainly high, it would have been wrong to assume an immediate, comprehensive disarmament from the North Koreans, or ‘peace in our time’. Dealing with regimes like North Korea requires care and patience, and the summit has facilitated greater moves towards an eventual Korean detente; it was never intended to end the Korean Question overnight. America and her allies are now better placed to deal with the DPRK, and the DPRK in turn seems more willing to negotiate the United States. The peace process will be arduous and slow, but we now have every reason to be optimistic about what can be achieved on the Korean peninsula. I don’t think you can discount Trump’s role in laying the foundation for peace.
I also find it very difficult to not be impressed with the way in which Trump continuously proves his detractors wrong. I’m no Trumper (I’m still incredibly bitter at the money I lost betting on Bernie throughout the Democratic primaries) but I can’t help but crack a wry smile everytime something goes the Donald’s way. In mere months we’ve gone from Trump threatening North Korea with ‘fire and fury’ to the President asking the photographers to ensure that he and Kim look ‘handsome and thin’ for the cameras. As ridiculous as the foreign policy of “we’re America, b*tch” sounds, it appears to be yielding results.
I do have to admit I’m a little impressed with the summit with Kim Jong-un. The pursuit of peace isn’t made any less worthwhile just because Trump’s at the helm, and I welcome anything that might eventually help end hostilities on the Korean peninsula, and bring the oppressive and rogue North Korean state to heel. Donald Trump isn’t God’s gift to international diplomacy, but even his harshest critics have to concede that the Singapore summit was a step in the right direction, and one that could facilitate an eventual peace.