The rationale for the summit between President Trump and Chairman Kim
is widely misunderstood by the critics of the American administration.
The rationale for the summits between United States President Trump
and DPRK Chairman Kim is widely misunderstood by the critics of the
American administration. By meeting with the DPRK leader, the
administration is seeking to change the "accepted" narrative about the
Korean peninsula and Western Pacific just as it has with respect to the
Whether the administration can be successful is an open question but
changes already secured in the Middle East give support to the
administration's strategy and goals.
For example, in the case of the Middle East, for decades the
tail wagged the Middle East dog with the Palestinian Authority
(PA) and previously the PLO having near veto power over US policy in
the region. So central was this to America's thinking that former US
President William Clinton said in 2010, if Israel simply provided the
Palestinians with a state,
most terrorism would go away.
[As if the grievance of Muslim terrorists about a Palestinian state explains their
wholesale murder of fellow Muslims,
to say nothing of Israelis and
Americans killed in literally thousands of Islamic terror attacks!] .
President Trump has rejected this Middle East framework or narrative.
He moved the US embassy to Jerusalem, closed the Palestinian
Authority office in new York, quickly decimated ISIS,
and cut significantly
the funding for United Nations Relief and Works Agency
This UN refugee office, founded shortly after World War II, has still
some 75 years later not settled "Palestinian refugees." Now decades
later, the children of these refugees as well as Arabs drawn from
throughout the Middle East are cleverly kept in slums and barrios on the
West Bank from which a ready pool of terrorists can be drawn.
President Trump also then put together
an informal alliance
of Gulf states, particularly the United Arab Emirates, the Kingdom of Saudi
Arabia, and Egypt, to be joined by Israel and the United States, to
challenge Iran, which as the worst terror sponsor state in the world
was finally the primary focus
of United States concern.
The administration withdrew from the JCPOA, as Iran
is not living
up to its obligations under the agreement. And contrary to promises of
changed Iranian behavior, since the 2015 JCPOA "deal", Iran has aggressively
increased its funding
for terror, including to Hezbollah,
Hamas, and Islamic Jihad, increased its funding and arms shipments to
jihadis in Yemen
, while also
accelerating its ballistic missile
programs, while making
in nuclear weapons
technology capability as just
in a February 25th report
by the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS).
On North Korea, (DPRK), the administration similarly has sought to
change the foreign policy conventional wisdom about the DPRK nuclear
threat. To do this the administration had to first cement the US
relationship with our ally the Republic of Korea and
underscore (not hide)
the central role of China in the ongoing hostile policy of the DPRK in the region.
Second, President Trump had to assert that the US was in the business of
deterring the DPRK, not the other way around. The President's comment
about having a
really big "nuclear button" was not macho bragging but a
statement of fact: no longer would the US tolerate DPRK attacks on the
US, Japan or the Republic of Korea, whether bombings, cross-border
commando raids, sinking of Navy vessels, shelling of villages or
grabbing of American ships such as the USS Pueblo.
The Trump administration was sending a very strong message that the
US would no longer be silent in the face of DPRK threats to turn Seoul
or Los Angeles
into a sea of fire.
As former CIA Director Mike Morell
told me at the 2018 Reagan Defense Forum, the US since the end of the
Korean War in 1953 had not once used military action in response to a
DPRK attack on the US, its interests or allies, so how could that be
characterized as a "hostile policy?" .
Third, the administration sought an immediate end to the DPRK practice
of testing ballistic missiles over the ROK and Japan, as well as testing
nuclear weapons, and threatening Hawaii, Guam or California with
Fourth, the US secured the deployment in ROK of a THAAD missile
defense battery while also
increasing by $60 million
annually the ROK
support for American troops. The administration now can point to the
additional ROK support when going to the American people and asking
for greater defense spending for our own military forces, which over the
past two years
has been very significant.
That quid-pro-quo underscores
the commitment the administration has made to the US-ROK alliance.
Fifth, having cemented the US-ROK alliance, a message is sent to the
DPRK that nothing is going to undermine that relationship and
American soldiers are
going to remain
on the peninsula, contrary to the
recurring demands of the DPRK and China that all US troops leave.
Sixth, the administration has suggested an alternative economic vision
for the DPRK, which situated between three economic powerhouses,
(China, ROK and Japan), could become certainly in relative terms,
economically far better off than it is today.
Critics may be right
that such a deal is not possible. It may be the North Korean leadership wants only
to survive, keep its nuclear weapons, and only work to secure sufficient
funds to take care of its ruling elite, and otherwise wait for the day that
US forces leave the peninsula.
However, the security implications of a permanently nuclear armed
DPRK are sufficiently serious to support the administration's initiative
to denuclearize the peninsula. In January 2019, the special US envoy of
the United States to North Korea, Mr. Stephen Biegun,
announced at the end
of January 2019 in a speech at Stanford University that the DPRK
had indeed pledged to give a full inventory of its nuclear enrichment
facilities at the upcoming summit.
Indeed, why would the DPRK even bargain away its nuclear weapons
capability if it guarantees the survival of the DPRK regime? It only
makes sense to trade the nuclear capability if the DPRK's nuclear
weapons are in fact
not to protect the North's
sovereignty or guarantee its survival but for some other purpose.
For example, what if instead the nuclear program of the DPRK is to
secure leverage with which to bargain concessions from the US and the
ROK? And what if the goal is to secure a very important concession-
the removal of US military forces from the Korean peninsula, a long-
sought goal put on the table long before the DPRK acquired nuclear
So far, however, with the exception of a delay in troop exercises, the
Trump administration has correctly resisted making any such
"concessions." This is despite concessions
by angry DPRK officials at meetings with American officials, especially the most
recent meeting with the United States Secretary of State.
As my friend China expert
Mike Pillsbury explains,
the Chinese and the DPRK are flummoxed by President Trump. These two nations had
regularly expected minor and reversible "concessions" by the North
would be reciprocated
by the US and allies with massive food and
energy assistance, as well as sanctions relief, as has occurred in the past.
Now it is true that for all the past efforts going back to the Agreed
Framework of 1994 between the United States and the DPRK, the North
has previously rejected a trade of ongoing sanctions relief and
economic assistance in return
for "giving up" its nuclear capability.
However, that changed in Hanoi at the past summit. The North for the
first time did explicitly agree to dismantle its nuclear enrichment facility
at Yongbyon, but in return
for all sanctions
(mainly those imposed by
the United Nations) being eliminated that are "harmful" to the people of
North Korea. This
has been described as
a "small deal" proposal, but
nonetheless it was an actual trade heretofore never put on the table.
What the North did not count on was the
US countering with
a requirement that ALL North Korean nuclear facilities and weapons be
dismantled, ("a very big deal"), implying the American intelligence
community knows that the DPRK has considerably more nuclear
facilities than those put on the table at Hanoi.
Why is that significant? Well, it the question is trading an end to
sanctions for denuclearization, then the definition of what exactly
constitutes the North Korean nuclear capability is what is up for
discussion, not that the nuclear weapons must be retained by the North
to secure its survival.
After all, is should now to clear to the DPRK (and China) that the US
troops in the ROK and Japan, and the US military presence in the
is not on the table
The Trump administration took office after 8 years of 'strategic
patience", which led only to more DPRK missiles and nuclear bombs,
to terror states. The proponents of such
policies-having failed miserably-- now lecture the Trump
administration about what our North Korean policy should be but are
apparently unwilling to see that the very nature of the discussion
has now been changed
-to a necessary focus on the DPRK nuclear
capability and not on the US military presence or supposed US "hostile
policy" in the region.
This page last updated March 8, 2019 jdb