Foreign Policy

Trump Walks Away With a Win Over North Korea

Canceling the Singapore summit with Kim Jong-un is not a loss for the U.S. — far from it.

Harold Hutchison · May 25, 2018

Donald Trump’s cancellation of the Singapore summit with Kim Jong-un is not a loss for the United States — far from it. Trump understands dealmaking. And, as it turns out, he may also know a bit about history.

Let’s go back 32 years to the Reykjavik summit, during which Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev offered sweeping nuclear arms cuts to President Ronald Reagan — provided Reagan stop development of the United States’ then-fledgling anti-ballistic-missile defense system known as Star Wars. Reagan refused and walked away. It was arguably the moment that our nation won the Cold War. And it happened because Reagan walked away from an opponent who, as we now know from Peter Schweizer’s book Victory, was on the ropes.

North Korea has similarly been on the ropes. The collapse of its nuclear test site set back that rogue country’s nuclear weapons program. Sure, Kim has his missiles, but intercontinental ballistic missiles aren’t as effective without nuclear warheads. Since that collapse, the North Koreans released three hostages, and then decided to finish by demolition what the collapse had started in the run-up to the summit.

So far, that means the North Koreans have made the bulk of the concessions (the U.S. did cancel one exercise with South Korea, but that can always be rescheduled). As Ari Fleisher, George W. Bush’s former press secretary, noted, “It’s about maneuvering, lack of predictability and leverage. Considering how often NK has played us in the past, I welcome this development.”

Let’s be blunt: Our nation’s previous efforts have been failures. All along, North Korea still pursued nuclear weapons and missiles (the latter having been fired over Japan, incidentally). Furthermore, there has never been a serious consequence for North Korea’s threats until now. It wasn’t just about what Trump called North Korea’s “tremendous anger and open hostility” exhibited in part when a North Korean official called Mike Pence a “political dummy.” North Korea also went so far as to threaten to nuke the United States.

Losing the Singapore summit places Kim in an even tighter spot. North Korea’s a basket case of a country, an unequivocal humanitarian nightmare.

The bigger message, though, goes to three countries: China, Russia and Mexico. China has been in talks with the U.S. to prevent a trade war and now has to realize that Trump is willing to walk away from a bad deal. Mexico has to be thinking the same thing with NAFTA renegotiations. Russia also has to rethink whether Donald Trump can be bullied.

Right now, President Trump is in a no-lose situation. If the summit cancellation sticks, we’ve still secured the safe return of three American hostages from that country, and its primary nuclear testing site is out of commission for a long time. Indeed, his cancellation letter to Kim is masterful in applying a geopolitical carrot and stick for that eventuality.

If the summit is back on, though, even at a later date, the North Koreans will likely have to make more concessions to President Trump. Furthermore, they’ll be facing the reality that if they want the summit to happen, their behavior will have to change. That counts as a win, too.

As of this morning, Trump says, “We’ll see what happens. We are talking to them now. They very much want to do it. We’d like to do it. It could even be the 12th.”

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