Herbert London: What’s At Stake For North Korea And The U.S.

Jun 13, 2018

The factors behind the agenda are all too visible.

First, President Trump is committed to a North Korea without nuclear weapons, albeit some backsliding on the matter may be in the discussion, particularly the time-table.

Second, North Korea claims a treaty with South Korea ending the six decades of hostility could be attained. The question is at what cost.

Third, North Korea has demanded a nuclear-free Korean peninsula which probably means the removal of the U.S. nuclear umbrella from South Korea and beyond.

Fourth, there are regional considerations at play including the role the U.S. will have in offering modest protection to nations in the Pacific basin.

Fifth, the North Koreans are demanding the lifting of sanctions before any serious discussion of nukes can take place.

Sixth, economic development in the North is a prerequisite for these negotiations. But the other side of the equations remains murky. What is North Korea prepared to do in order to satisfy their rivals on the other side of the DMZ?

Seventh, Kim Jung-un has demanded security for his nation and himself. However, if genuine reform occurs, the likelihood of regime change increases. Can Kim have it both ways?

Eighth, should negotiations falter, does the U.S. have mobile launch capabilities of its defenses sufficient to deter North Korea? How will this assessment be made?

Clearly Secretary of State Pompeo has addressed these matters in preliminary conversations. However, my suspicion is the devil is still in the details.

It should be noted this is a high wire act with a deep fall associated with failure. Pompeo is unlikely to let that happen, but history always has its surprises.

Trump realizes that any success in the Singapore meeting will translate into Republican success at the polls in this year’s off-year election, probably setting the stage for reelection in 2020. Moreover, the negotiation stance of the U.S. is being watched by Iranian officials with great interest in the outcome.

This is high stakes diplomacy that could usher in relatively different foreign policy initiatives from Europe to Asia. Trump is feeling his oats; the question is whether Kim eats oats for breakfast or is prepared to change his diet.

Herbert London is President of the London Center for Policy Research,  a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America). You can read all of Herb London’s commentaries at www.londoncenter.org

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