Editor’s Note: Looking for more opinions on where we go after the Hanoi summit? Check out all 80 expert takes on where U.S-North Korea relations go next here.
With the world’s attention on Hanoi, President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un walked away from the celebratory table that had quite literally already been set. It is never a mistake to walk away from a bad deal, but it’s not clear what the deal even was. We were left with an abrupt ending to the summit and no tangible progress. The unexpected ending exacerbated concerns about how North Korea and the United States plan to move forward with denuclearization. The seeming lack of preparation and pervasive miscommunication between the negotiating parties undermined the potential for a comprehensive agreement. Yet, North Korea hasweathered failed nuclear negotiations before and continued to advance their nuclear program. Should this pattern continue, tomorrow’s leaders will be faced with an increasingly capable and potentially threatening North Korea.
North Korea developed its nuclear weapons capabilities over the past decades while the international community condemned their behavior from the outside. This security concern has been passed from one presidential administration to the next while North Korea is no closer to a concrete commitment to give up its nuclear capabilities. In order to stop passing the threat forward, the United States should reexamine our approach to denuclearization.
President Trump reassured the press of continued talks, but success will require both sides to learn from previous mistakes. Miscommunication has plagued nuclear negotiations and even agreement implementation with North Korea, a challenge that persists to this day. The United States and North Korea must clearly address expectations and learn from the past in order to meaningfully move the process ahead.
Negotiators can start with smaller steps. It is not for one administration (or likely one generation) to fix this issue entirely; such a project will take decades. Instead, the United States should focus on incremental, verifiable steps that can be sustained over time and work toward a more comprehensive agreement that improves regional and global security.
President Trump and Chairman Kim may have walked away from a potential deal, but the security threat remains. Instead of repeating history, Washington and Pyongyang should work together to create a new future. The world cannot afford to keep punting the North Korean nuclear football forward.
Erin Connolly is a program assistant at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation and the Fissile Materials Working Group. She works on nuclear security, artificial intelligence, and U.S. nonproliferation policy-related projects, with a special emphasis on youth engagement.