Trump-Kim III: Making History Without Making Progress? | Mel Gurtov

Taking a few steps onto North Korean soil, and posing for pictures with a friendly dictator, seem to fit Trump-era diplomacy better than a carefully laid out process.

But unless the U.S. changes its bargaining position — in fact, starts to bargain — nothing will be come of this sudden trip, and Trump will have given North Korea another PR victory: the U.S. president accepting it as a nuclear state.

The media’s focus on Trump making history is strange, and a distraction from the main issue: peace and security on the Korean peninsula.

Whereas Trump took a few steps inside North Korea, Jimmy Carter (in 1994) and Bill Clinton (in 2009) made peace missions to Pyongyang that had substantive results. The only real history Trump is making is his consistent adoration of dictators and substitution of nice personal exchanges for problem solving.

More noteworthy than Trump’s gambit is the NY Times report that Trump is considering a different tack with the North Koreans this time around, namely, a proposal for a freeze on the North’s nuclear weapon production (presumably meaning production of the materials for the weapon as well as the weapon itself).

Critics are already jumping on that idea too, pointing out the obvious: North Korea would retain its nuclear weapon stockpile while continuing missile testing. The U.S. is said to weigh proposing that in return, North Korea will agree to abandon perhaps two weapon production and testing sites under international inspection.

Granted, such a U.S. proposal would mean acknowledging what no administration had been willing to acknowledge before: that North Korea is a legitimate nuclear-weapon state.

Pro-nuclear forces in South Korea, Japan, and perhaps elsewhere (Saudi Arabia? Iran?) might be emboldened to insist on having the same privilege, raising all kinds of regional security and proliferation issues.

And how likely is it that Kim Jong-un will agree to intrusive inspections of his nuclear facilities?

On the other hand, let’s face it: the demand of the last three administrations for “complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization” of North Korea is simply unattainable. So a nuclear freeze may be the best deal possible. (Among the few specialists who agree is Joel Wit, who has been involved in nuclear negotiations with North Korea.)

What follows that deal counts just as much. If it paves the way for further steps—for example, a permanent halt to North Korean missile tests in return for a partial easing of U.S. sanctions, a peace treaty (including South Korea, China, and Japan) to replace the Korean armistice, and farther down the road a significant North Korean reduction in nuclear warheads in exchange for elimination of U.S. sanctions and normalization of relations — the freeze would be a win for both countries.

Otherwise, Trump has gained very little — a freeze can quickly unfreeze, and nuclear production can be resumed or started elsewhere — in return for major North Korean gains in international recognition and continued possession of a substantial nuclear-missile arsenal.

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University.

More in Opinion

Mueller’s Testimony: Impeachment Accelerant or Anticlimax? | Dick Polman

Remember the now-distant days when we Americans who closely track Donald Trump’s… Continue reading

Today’s cartoon for Tuesday, July 23

Today’s cartoon is by Daryl Cagle, CagleCartoons.com.… Continue reading

Trump’s 128th week in office | In cartoons

What else can we say? Tanks for the memories. Our cartoon chronicle… Continue reading

Hollywood Says Hooray for Mayor Pete | Peter Funt

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Mayor Pete Buttigieg, the Democrats’ wunderkind from South… Continue reading

Today’s cartoon for Monday, July 23

Today’s cartoon is by Pat Bagley, The Salt Lake Tribune.… Continue reading

Fighting climate change means ending war | Robert C. Koehler

“The easy movement of high ranking military officers into jobs with major… Continue reading

Today’s cartoon for Sunday, July 21

Today’s cartoon is by Luojie, China Daily, China.… Continue reading

The Mighty Pen Strikes Out | Peter Funt

His portfolio of editorial cartoons in hand, Burris Jenkins Jr. arrived for… Continue reading

Most Read