In just a matter of three days, Trump traveled 8,760 miles between Quebec, Canada and Singapore to attend two summits. But true to his egocentric character, Trump alienated America’s allies, the G7, and insulted the host, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and refused to sign the joint communiqué. He then hastily left the annual economic conference of the world’s economic power bloc and flew to Singapore to meet America’s avowed enemy, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
When Trudeau held a press conference at the conclusion of the G7, a reporter asked a question about the steel tariffs that Trump imposed on Canada. Trudeau called the meeting a success but pledged to retaliate against American tariffs. He said, “Canadians did not take it lightly that the United States has moved forward with significant tariffs on our steel and aluminum industry, particularly did not take lightly the fact that it’s based on a national security reason.” He also said, “We [will] move forward with retaliatory measures on July 1, applying equivalent tariffs to the ones that the Americans have unjustly applied to us.”
This infuriated Trump who then tweeted: “Based on Justin’s false statements at his news conference, and the fact that Canada is charging massive Tariffs to our U.S. farmers, workers and companies, I have instructed our U.S. Reps not to endorse the Communique as we look at Tariffs on automobiles flooding the U.S. Market!”
When Trump and Kim met in Singapore, Trump was hedging his presidency on convincing Kim to denuclearize North Korea. As a matter of fact, he made it known before the summit that his goal is “complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization” (CVID).
But while Trump did not get the CVID that he aimed for, his threats to “politely walk out of the meeting if his expectations were unmet did not materialize.” Instead he predicted he could “solve a big problem, a big dilemma” alongside his newfound friend.
In a joint statement that Trump and Kim signed after the meetings, Trump committed to provide security guarantees to North Korea, officially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) while Kim reaffirmed his “firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” However, there are no details, no timetable, and no plan for verifying that North Korea would dismantle its nuclear program.
Trump and Kim committed to the following:
1. Establish new US-DPRK relations in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity.
2. They will join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.
3. Reaffirming the April 27, 2018 Panmunjom Declaration, the DPRK commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
4. Recover POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.
It’s interesting to note that items 1, 2, 4 were lifted from the 2005 agreement where the U.S. and four other participating countries signed a draft accord in which North Korea promised to “abandon efforts to produce nuclear weapons and re-admit international inspectors to its nuclear facilities.” But after years of haggling over how to verify the North Korean pledge, the six-party talks broke down in 2009.
Previous agreements also failed. In 1992, South and North Korea signed the South-North Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. They agreed not to “test, manufacture, produce, receive, possess, store, deploy or use nuclear weapons” or to “possess nuclear reprocessing and uranium enrichment facilities.” They also agreed to mutual inspections for verification. The following year, North Korea withdrew from the agreement due to “supreme national security considerations.”
In 1994, the US and DPRK signed a framework agreement to freeze and replace North Korea’s indigenous nuclear power plant program “with more nuclear proliferation resistant light water reactor power plants.” They also agreed on the step-by-step normalization of relations between the two countries. However, implementation did not go too well. It collapsed in 2002 and in 2003 DPRK began operating its nuclear facilities again.
The Panmunjom Declaration did not set a timetable for denuclearization, merely confirming the “common goal of realizing, through complete denuclearization, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.” South and North Korea also “reaffirmed the Non-Aggression Agreement that precludes the use of force in any form against each other, and agreed to strictly adhere to this Agreement. They also agreed to carry out disarmament in a phased manner, as military tension is alleviated and substantial progress is made in military confidence-building.” And most importantly, “South and North Korea agreed to “completely cease all hostile acts against each other in every domain, including land, air and sea, that are the source of military tension and conflict.” The two sides agreed to transform the demilitarized zone into a peace zone in a genuine sense by ceasing as of May 2, 2018 all hostile acts and eliminating their means, including broadcasting through loudspeakers and distribution of leaflets, in the areas along the Military Demarcation Line.”
Looking at the two documents — the US-DPRK Joint Statement and the Panmunjom Declaration –- there are more tangible deliverables in the Panmunjom Declaration than in the US-DPRK Joint Statement. If South and North Korea implement the goals of the Panmunjom Declaration, then the US-DPRK Joint Statement would be academic, which begs the question: What did the US-DPRK Summit accomplish? And who are the winners and losers?
Winners and Losers
The winners are Kim Jong-un, China, and Russia. He got Trump to fly halfway around the world to meet him and cancel the military exercises with South Korea, without giving up anything major in return. By having a one-on-one private meeting with Trump, Kim has attained respect and status that equals Trump. The fact that Trump praised Kim’s “great personality,” and called him “honorable” and “very talented” speak volumes. And lastly, Kim did not make any concessions. It’s a diplomatic coup for Kim. Many are of the opinion that Kim had duped Trump into meeting him. If there are other countries that are critical of US-South Korea military exercises, they’re China and Russia, who are North Korea’s neighboring countries. Before Trump left for Singapore, Chinese President Xi Jinping reportedly pressured Trump to cancel the war games. Xi considers the war games a threat to China’s Pacific fleet.
And the losers are Trump and South Korea. Trump got nothing from Kim while giving Kim a major concession, which is the cancellation of US-South Korea military exercises. In this regard South Korea is also a loser who was blindsided by Trump’s cancellation of the war games. Sad to say, Trump just threw South Korea under the bus. But Trump failed in his effort to get a firm commitment from Kim to denuclearize North Korea. The irony is that South Korean President Moon Jae-in was the driving force behind the peace talks. The Panmunjom Declaration was achieved through Moon’s personal initiative.
So, how has Trump personally benefited from his meeting with Kim? For one thing, Trump believed that the meeting has created a “special bond” and “partnership” with Kim. “I trust Kim. He’s a funny guy,” he told reporters. But looking beyond the summit, Trump could make a huge political victory in the 2020 general elections when he is going to run for reelection if denuclearization begins before then. It would also help Trump if Kim continues to play the role of Trump’s “fantastic partner” by maintaining peace with South Korea. But if a conflict or war breaks out in the peninsula, then Trump might as well kiss his reelection goodbye.
The question is: With a history of three failed agreements, would the Singapore agreement fail, too? During his press conference, Trump said: ”Six months from now if I’m wrong about Kim Jong-un, I’ll find some kind of excuse.” Well, as usual he’d probably blame Obama. That’s Trump, indeed.
With the fiasco in Quebec and Trump’s failure to achieve his goal in Singapore, a double whammy has just hit Trump.