The most recent development on North Korea’s so-called denuclearization, the reality of which has been a matter of extreme skepticism among foreign policy and security experts, undermines U.S. President Donald Trump’s expectations. Trump had convinced himself that he had procured a history-changing agreement with North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un at the ill-conceived Singapore Summit. In Trump’s imagination all of humanity would be grateful to him for saving the world from a cataclysmic nuclear war between the United States and North Korea. He also believed his achievement far outranked all diplomatic triumphs of his predecessors combined in the history of the United States. Some of his friends had vision of a Nobel Peace Prize.
With Kim writing to Trump telling him not to send Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to North Korea for further talks, and publicly criticizing the U.S. for its coercive negotiating style and bullying demands, the non-existent denuclearization negotiation process grounded to a halt. This predictable outcome to Trump’s folly came as no surprise. Kim had refused also to meet with Pompeo during his most recent visit to Pyongyang. Perhaps it is wishful thinking Trump can now be convinced that he was being played all along by the North Korean leader. With that in mind, there should be concern that the shock of such a realization by Trump may trigger some form of irresponsible reaction from him to cover the failure of what he thought was his greatest diplomatic triumph and geopolitical success.
Trump’s belief that his diplomatic triumph had saved the world from a catastrophe failed to recognize that the eventuality of such a war would have been of his own making. It would have been triggered by his belligerent threats to North Korea. The exchange of personal attacks between Trump and Kim was what raised the threat level in the first place, as both seemed to be inching closer to military confrontation. Then suddenly, Kim won the first round when Trump granted him a Summit in Singapore. Kim had achieved what his father and grandfather, both of whom led North Korea before him, had sought unsuccessfully with an American President. He was the first North Korean Leader to have a meeting with an American president.
Trump also made history; he was the first American president to agree to such a meeting. No previous American president would have sat down with a North Korean leader without first pursuing a diplomatic process to achieve detailed undertakings leading to North Korean denuclearization. Such an agreement would have included a detailed road map for each party to follow in order to fulfill agreed on provisions and commitments. Trump’s diplomatic naïveté and narcissistic personality led him to believe that the use of experts-led diplomatic negotiations was not necessary as he was best able at negotiating a deal. He was the only one who believed this but the sycophants around him played along and in the end watched him fail.
While there was broad skepticism that anything of substance would have emerged from the ill-conceived Singapore Summit, the idea of the Summit provided respite from the bellicose rhetoric of both leaders. Ironically, it is Trump’s narcissism and diplomatic naïveté which probably saved the Korean peninsula and perhaps the world from a nuclear war. Trump’s self-aggrandizement and belief in ‘I alone can fix it,’ that he is the greatest deal maker of all time, led him to grant a summit with the North Korean leader. On a handshake, Trump believed he had achieved a goal which had eluded his predecessors; Kim Jong-un would destroy all of North Korea’s nuclear weapons without any preconditions.
Anyone with a modicum of understanding of the history of North Korea’s interrelationships with the United States would have known that the raison d’être for North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons is to guarantee the existence of the country. Without nuclear weapons North Korea becomes vulnerable to destruction by its perceived enemies – the United States and South Korea.
Trump left the Summit trusting Kim’s words that North Korea would denuclearize. The devil would be in the details, except there were no details. Their handshake staged for world media coverage sealed the deal. There is no binding agreement on either party to a detailed road map for denuclearization. Furthermore, only those in Trump’s inner circle of sycophants could believe North Korea would destroy its nuclear arsenal. Considering Pompeo’s background it is inconceivable that he believed North Korea would denuclearize. Yet, as newly appointed Secretary of State he was given the responsibility to see that it happened. He was given ‘basket to carry water.’ One has to assume that he knew that, despite trying to convince Congress and the public otherwise.
No one except the North Koreans knows for sure the extent of its nuclear arsenal. Estimates ranges from 16 to 60. At the time of the Singapore Summit, North Korea floated the idea it had ceased testing of nuclear bomb and missile technology. Trump chose to interpret that to mean North Korea was prepared to give up its nuclear arms technology. The truth was North Korea having attained an optimum level of nuclear weapons technology and capability no longer had need of further testing. Only a naïve and uninformed individual could believe otherwise. Donald Trump did.
Convinced that he is the best negotiator it is difficult to separate Trump’s naïveté from his narcissistic personality. Trump convinced himself that he had made a deal with Kim. He was played by Kim.
Trump’s newly appointed Secretary of State had not quite settled in at the State Department before the staging of the Singapore Summit. He was required post-Summit to ensure that North Korea denuclearized. He sought to present the most positive possible outcome from the Summit to the American people, the Congress and the world. Those with knowledge of the history of North Korean interactions with the United States were not fooled. Those with an understanding of the geopolitical and strategic objectives of Kim Jong-un were not fooled. One has to wonder whether Pompeo really believed Kim would divest himself of the only insurance he had against the United States just for an appearance on the world stage with the American president. While that may have lifted Kim’s global image, there was no guarantee of protection for North Korea or diminution of threat to its existence. What makes anyone really believe Kim was so naïve as to trust the mere words of Donald Trump or the military hawks around him?
Trump is left with few face-saving options. One is imposition of sanctions against North Korea. Trump’s recent experience with the Iran sanctions severely impacting Iran’s economy may encourage him to take a similar path. At the end of the day North Korea will still possess nuclear weapons and missile delivery systems. Meanwhile, Trump is still looking for a successful end to this debacle. It’s anybody’s guess what next steps he will take.
Curtis A Ward