Trump Should Trust Deterrence (Not North Korea Hawks)

    Daniel R. DePetris

    Security, Asia

    The collapse of the June 12 summit is not the end of the world—yet a bloody doomsday is exactly what will happen if Trump listens to the ultra-hawkish voices in Washington. 

    From the moment President Donald Trump accepted North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s offer to meet in-person, there was always a lingering suspicion that the self-proclaimed master at deal-making was a little too eager to strike an agreement with Pyongyang. Democrats on Capitol Hill and even some anonymous members of his administration were telling the press that Trump was not only too optimistic about what could be achieved, but was barely taking the time to review briefing materials about North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. There appeared to be confusion, if not a total split, on how Pyongyang’s hypothetical denuclearization was to be carried out; while National Security Adviser John Bolton wanted an all-for-something-later approach akin to the 2003-2004 Libya model, Trump suggested he was flexible enough to consider a more incremental process.

    In the end, the diplomatic stars failed to align. The rhetoric coming from the Kim regime over the previous few days was increasingly acrimonious. If the statements from Kim’s deputies told us one thing, it was that the North Korea of today is still the North Korea of yesterday. North Korea is highly paranoid about America’s “hostile policy,” confrontational when it feels like its diplomatic leverage has weakened, and incredibly resistant to any possible diplomatic arrangement that looks like a wholesale capitulation to the United States.

    It is probably a good thing that President Trump cancelled the meeting. His team didn’t appear to be on the same page, and the president himself was vacillating between having the summit and walking away. The conventional interpretation of the summit’s postponement will claim it was a giant, missed opportunity to make an historic peace and achieve a potentially Nobel Peace Prize-winning denuclearization of the Kim regime.

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