Editor’s Note: Want more ideas on what will happen at the summit? Check out all 76 expert opinions we gathered here.
Moved by an illusory chance to make history, President Trump jumped at the first opportunity for summit pageantry. Thus, Trump fell right into the North Korean dictator’s trap of ensnaring the United States in a labyrinthian process of protracted negotiations during which Pyongyang buys time and money with which to perfect its nuclear posture review. The second summit is the predictable Act II of a tragedy in-the-making, written and directed by Kim:
1. Raise the adversary’s hopes and expectations by making more false promises and granting illusory concessions like opening up or decommissioning an old site or two.
2. Wrest away from Washington real concessions like the non-enforcement of sanctions and sanctions relief.
3. Build further “trust” by compelling the U.S. to sign a peace agreement, thus setting the stage for the slowdown of U.S. support for South Korea, ultimately leading to the withdrawal of U.S. Forces in Korea.
North Korea will ride the momentum of rapprochement and seek a Third Act that will further solidify its extortionist posture toward the South and its international standing as a nuclear power. At a point of its choosing Pyongyang will punctuate Act IV with a thermonuclear test in outer space, as it threatened in September 2017. In blaming U.S. “non-compliance” and “hostile policy” for its act, North Korea will be accepted as an irreproachable, veritable nuclear state.
Kim Jong-un will seek to close out Act V by absorbing in whole the nuclear-free, risk-averse Korean state south of the border, thus fulfilling the highest stated mission of the Workers’ Party of Korea of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea: complete the Juche Revolution by achieving the independent reunification of the fatherland.
That is, unless South Korea shapes up and stands up to the North, embarking on a nuclear path itself.
While such a bold switchover in policy will not take place under the current Moon administration, South Korea’s nuclearization will increasingly become a taboo-free point of debate and the prevailing policy desire of the South Korean people. The choice between “Vietnamization,” i.e., communization by the North, and state survival through effecting nuclear parity with Pyongyang, will become starkly clear. In the face of international opprobrium, South Korea will argue that it, too, like the United Kingdom and France, can be a responsible, proliferation-resistant nuclear state.
Quo vadis Japan?
The train of events that Donald Trump has unwittingly unleashed is the nuclear proliferation of Northeast Asia.
Sung-Yoo Lee is a Kim Koo-Korea Foundation Professor of Korean Studies and Assistant Professor at the Fletcher School at Tufts University. He is a former research fellow with the National Asia Research Program, a joint initiative by the National Bureau of Asia Research and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and former associate in research at the Korea Institute, Harvard University.