It is now obvious that Donald Trump is desperately trying to use the North Korea Summit as his signature issue to recover some dignity from the disaster that is the Donald Trump administration. Putting aside the rhetoric and self-serving hyperbole there are only two things we know for sure about the summit. The first is that Kim Jong Un accomplished his significant milestone as he is no longer a pariah on the world stage. The second is that the summit produced no specificity as to what and to when.
Diplomacy and international agreements are about specificity. That is the reason for the flowery and verbose language in most agreements. Sometimes and purposely international agreements are created without specificity for political purposes because no agreement has been reached. It allows the governments a face-saving measure should things not work out as planned.
The document signed by Trump and Jong Un is nothing more than a photo op for both leaders to showcase something to the world. It lacks the specificity of concrete steps to bring North Korea into the fold, rid the world of its nuclear arsenal and reach peace in the Korean peninsula.
The document states that both North Korea and the United States “conducted a comprehensive, in-depth and sincere exchange of opinions on the issues.” In other words, Trump and Jong Un sat down and told each other what they wanted out of any peace agreement.
Obviously “denuclearization” is the keyword that the world wants to hear. But, what does it mean? Does it mean that North Korea will relinquish all its nuclear bombs, or just a few? Does it mean that North Korea commits to never again develop and field nuclear bombs? Is Kim Jong Un committing to let the international community come in and inspect any part of the country to prove that North Korea is no longer in possession of nuclear weapons or the materials to create more?
The only specific mention to the nuclear question is the reference to the 2018 Panmunjom Declaration agreed to by North and South Korea on April 27, 2018. The declaration proclaims that the Koreas will embark on making the Korean peninsula “nuclear free.”
However, no concrete steps or timelines have been created as of today to do so. Just a promise to get there some day.
The document commits Kim Jong Un to repatriate POW/MIA remains to the United States. The document also proclaims that both governments will “hold follow-on negotiations” but in keeping with the lack of specificity, North Korea does not name the individual or individuals that will conduct the negotiations. Yet, the Trump administration named U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to lead the American side of the negotiations.
Although the document promises to begin negotiations “at the earliest possible date,” North Korea has not named who will lead its country’s negotiating team.
This brings us right to the only winner of the summit – Kim Jong Un.
The Jong Un and Trump document recognizes that the summit is an “epochal event of great significance.”
The summit gave Kim Jong Un the respectability he so desperately desires on the world stage to be treated as an equal. There is a reason why former presidents did not meet with Kim Jong Un. It has to do with allowing him a formal standing among the leaders of the world.
Prior to the summit, it was common to refer to North Korea as the “hermit” country and Kim Jong Un as the leader of an illegal regime. North Korea was ostracized by most of the rest of the world, and especially the United States, as a pariah country.
What Donald Trump delivered to Kim Jong Un with the summit was what Trump and Jong Un each desperately are looking for – respectability.
Kim Jong Un got it, courtesy of Donald Trump and Trump is still looking for it.
But, it gets worse, Donald Trump has now agreed to end joint military training programs with South Korea. Kim Jong Un gets to tell his people that the United States is leaving the Korean peninsula with its tail tucked between its legs. To prove so he will point to the lack of military joint training on North Korea’s border.
What did Donald Trump get in return? Nothing.