The Summit between American President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un was an anticipated event, although one that was met by scepticism by some of those in the foreign policy community.
Matthew Bugeja who through Bugeja Geo Political Consulting, heads the GeoPolitical advisory arm of Diplomatique.Expert gives his insight and perspectives on the summit.
Whilst it is difficult to be entirely certain, given that such information is highly confidential, the two sides have very different desired outcomes from any final agreement which may emerge in the months or years ahead, and these outcomes will prove difficult to bridge even if negotiations proceed smoothly. One look at the Brexit negotiations between the EU & the UK shows that even in negotiations amongst allies, there is room for disruption, tension and turmoil.
Here are a few reflections:
North Korea has spent over 40 years developing its nuclear capability…
Which is why its nuclear program has reached arguably the most advanced levels possible, with the development of what appear to intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the continental United States. With this in its toolbox, the threat it poses to America is greater than ever.
…which is why it will not give up its nuclear arms so easily.
The North Korean strategy predominantly revolves around one issue: the survival and endurance of its Supreme Leader, the third-generation Kim – Kim Jong Un. By giving up some, or all its nuclear capability, Pyongyang would fear that it would eventually end up like the former Gaddafi regime in Libya – overthrown by its own people and supported by Western powers. Gaddafi had given up his weapons of mass destruction programme and had been given security guarantees by the West, only to be on the receiving end of Western air power a decade later.
Kim Jong Un will be hesitant to follow suit. Nuclear weapons are his ultimate deterrent.
The US will have to make concessions…
Any concessions which are beyond token economic sanction relief will be met by considerable opposition in the US and Japan, in particular. President Trump has said that US military exercises with South Korea will be stopped, although whether this is a permanent or temporary measure has yet to be determined.
Whilst this may seem like a small concession to Kim Jong-Un, it has implications for US-South Korean military readiness and interoperability. The allies have had years of practice and drilling, but there would be implications if the exercises are to be permanently shelved. Theoretically, this has given North Korea an advantage it did not have prior to these talks.
…and North Korea will have to show it can be trusted.
Both sides had made promises in the 1990’s that they did not keep. North Korea was meant to begin to denuclearise, and Washington was supposed to provide sanction relief. Neither really took off. But the onus is on North Korea to show just how far it is willing to go to prove it is ready to throw off its pariah label and join the global community proper.
This may not mean full denuclearisation, but any steps it takes will have to be verifiable and irreversible to appease the Trump Administration. In a country where the regime has over 100 facilities involved in nuclear capability development, full verification will be incredibly difficult for any international observers.
The negotiations have only just begun
It was an unconventional summit between two very unconventional leaders, who have seemingly put aside their differences and egos for the time being to give peace a chance. That is a positive development. But whether either side is willing to offer the other much latitude and negotiating space remains to be seen. This seems to be a genuine attempt, at least on the face of it, to alter the trajectory of the US-North Korean relationship. Both sides will need to clarify their desired outcomes early on, and be willing to compromise considerably to reach a final peace agreement which is mutually satisfactory.
This is possible. But the best way to test a ship is to see how it fares in stormy seas. Once the negotiations begin, expect some fireworks. It is only then that the world can see just how earnestly both sides are willing to commit to a peaceful outcome. The possibility of war is off the table, for now – although both sides are more than capable of bellicose rhetoric that can bring that risk to the fore in very short order.
The Trump-Kim Summit had some modest achievements, and a vague commitment to denuclearisation by Pyongyang, but no concrete details as to how this would be achieved.
There was much for the cameras, less for meaningful outcomes. This is a positive start, but the situation still merits considerable caution. The hardest work and tricky roadblocks lie ahead.
Matthew read for his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees at the University of Malta. He has worked in both the private and public sectors in personal and public finance. He delivered a number of lectures at the University of Malta’s Department of International Relations. He’s an expert in geopolitics and through Bugeja Geo Political Consulting, he heads the GeoPolitical advisory arm of Diplomatique.Expert.