Editor’s Note: Want more ideas on what will happen at the summit? Check out all 76 expert opinions we gathered here.
“What progress?” critics ask.
It’s been more than 400 days without a North Korean missile test, nuclear demonstration, or provocation. A third American soldier has been identified from the fifty-five boxes of remains sent back from North Korea. The Singapore summit last June laid out a way forward: change the tenor of U.S.-North Korea relations, then embark on the long process of denuclearization.
To fully comprehend the U.S.-North Korea dynamic, critics must move their frame beyond a zero-sum, single-round game. Observers must consider a multi-level, ongoing negotiation that gradually creates a more peaceful security environment. Every cognizant adult is skeptical about the intentions of these wily leaders, but we can also give peace a chance.
Seasoned experts like former Defense Secretary William Perry, arms control advocate Joe Cirincione and retired General Vincent Brooks have it right. North Korea may not give up its nuclear arsenal, but diplomacy will make the world safer.
As I predicted in December, Donald Trump will probably hold the next summit next month in Vietnam. The symbolism is powerful. Vietnam is an Asian country that was at war with but gradually warmed its ties with the United States and that maintained communist control but opened to the global economy.
The second summit can yield a modest deal: U.S. sanctions relief, a statement ending the Korean War, and an offer to shut down the Yongbyon nuclear complex. National Security Adviser John Bolton has suggested concessions for a “significant sign of a strategic decision to give up nuclear weapons” from North Korea are possible. “Significant” is open to interpretation, and Trump will be looking for a political victory after the setbacks over the border wall funding and the government shutdown in January.
This small-ball approach maintains momentum in the right direction. This situation is not a game in which one side wins or “gets played.” A protracted negotiation moving toward peace is an intrinsic good for the world. There may be no grand bargain, but that’s not how bargaining usually works. The end of World War II was an anomaly in its cinematic finality.
The messy process with North Korea may take decades. That’s fine as long as it is moving toward normalizing ties, opening up diplomatic relations, and building a more peaceful northeast Asia. Trump might brand the summits “peace talks.” One more prediction: No matter what level of progress is made at the next summits, critics will find something to criticize. But peace is worth pursuing.
Devin Stewart is senior fellow and director of the Asia program at Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs and a Truman Security Fellow. He has served as an adjunct professor of international affairs at Columbia University and New York University. The views expressed here are his own. Follow him on Twitter: @Devintstewart.