Post #238: Trump-Kim III: Making History Without Making Progress?

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 US 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 US 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 US 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 US 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: see his op-ed at  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 US 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 US 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.

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  1. Wow, right on again, Mel. Dictators tend to like one another (love?) and often times have the same goal in mind…look at me! Look at what I did! This is historic! Unfortunately with our current dictator, like others, nothing is accomplished and the media jumps on it for a story. Not the truth necessarily but a story. It seems obvious to me and should to others, that our little fat dictator wants to look like a foreign relations expert when all he really is is a baffoon pumping himself up so he can fool more people and get re-elected. Mercy, help us if that happens! I hope when he falls the media will let him go and stop covering the garbage that will spill out of his big mouth. Thank you, Mel, for shedding light on what’s actually happening and the empty results of such acts.

  2. Unfortunately you, Mel, did not mention Kim’s more-than-abysmal human rights record. I guess that’s understandable, since there is not much that CAN be done on our end; however, there’s much that can be done on South Korea’s part: That’s where exiles from the North commonly end up; and they have stories to tell: We should give them full voice in telling said stories; as well as South Korea’s baby-steps toward full implementation of Democracy itself.

  3. I don’t think trump really cares one way or another about the nuclear weapons in NK. He fakes concern and falsifies his accomplishments which never happen. Its a psychological issue in him he uses routinely on every issue. I think he wants to open trade with NK and profit off of it. Its clearly a virgin market which has nowhere to go but up in a short amount of time. Kim wouldn’t go for that because his people will finally get to see how the rest of the world lives and he could lose his power. The NK problems of today are multiple. Kim’s never going to allow inspections of his nuclear programs. I think we have two very large egos simply playing with each other at the present. Unfortunately if they ever break up their love affair, things can go very bad real fast. Egos this big don’t play well together for very long.

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