5 Mistakes Trump Cannot Afford to Make When Meeting with Kim Jong Un

April 18, 2018 Topic: Security Region: Asia Tags: TrumpKim Jong UnNorth KoreaNuclearMissile

5 Mistakes Trump Cannot Afford to Make When Meeting with Kim Jong Un

Trump should present a cohesive, rational proposal that accounts for the mistakes of the past and provides viable solutions in North Korea.

In light of the quickly-approaching summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, it is more crucial than ever that President Donald Trump come to the negotiating table equipped with not only a comprehensive policy plan, but also with a strategy for avoiding the blunders made by previous administrations. Should he present a cohesive, rational proposal which accounts for the mistakes of the past and provides viable solutions, he will have a genuine shot at securing the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of North Korea.

1. Lack of unshakable resolve

President Barack Obama’s chosen tactic of “strategic patience” did little more than turn a blind eye while the North Korean nuclear program accelerated, making historic progress. In contrast with the hawkish approach employed by President George W. Bush’s administration, this less provocative stratagem was better received by the other members of the Six-Party Talks (South Korea, China, Russia and Japan). However, President Trump’s recent success in coaxing Kim out of his solitude proves that it will take much more than patience to compel the rogue nation toward considerations of a lasting agreement. Trump, already notorious for his bold obstinacy in dealing with Kim, has continued to cement his position as the unyielding adversary of the rogue nation, surrounding himself with the most aggressively hard-line inner circle in modern American history. Determination and steadfastness demands will not be enough to achieve denuclearization, however; Trump must continue to demonstrate willingness to effectively exert rigorous strategic and political pressure (in the form of joint military exercises, naval blockades and reports of human rights violations) in tandem with harsh economic blows, to be applied by China.

2. Misuse of negotiating tools

As demonstrated by President Bill Clinton’s unsuccessful Agreed Framework, charm alone will not go far in ensuring conclusive dismantlement of the nuclear program, especially if it does simultaneously present genuine threat for non-compliance. Similarly, a policy involving only threat will undoubtedly fail, considering that it provides no viable chance for survival without nuclear weapons. Trump must produce a policy which has meticulously calculated the costs and benefits of denuclearization from North Korea’s vantage point—acknowledging the enormous strategic loss that would accompany dismantlement, while emphasizing the invaluable reward which would be offered in exchange. Because the nuclear program is intrinsically bound to the regime’s survival, Kim will never agree to abandonment unless the cost becomes prohibitively expensive, prompting regime change, while the benefits simultaneously offer a higher chance for survival. Therefore, Trump needs to adopt a policy which calls for both sticks and carrots: threat of stifling sanctions accompanied by promises of economic modernization and sustained growth, collectively supported and enforced by all of the remaining stakeholder nations.

3. Absence of unanimous stakeholder support

According to the analysis of Scott Snyder, director of U.S.-Korea policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, past administrations have failed because they placed their own security concerns above collective need, implementing self-serving policies which did not account for the interests of all of the stakeholder nations and, therefore, were not bolstered by their mutual support. The immense task of convincing the belligerent regime to relinquish their nuclear arsenal cannot be accomplished by one single nation—it will require that all five of the remaining states of the Six-Party Talks pool their economic and security resources in developing a package deal and exert pressure adequate to drive Kim towards acceptance of the deal. If anything can be learned from President Bush and his crusade against the “axis of evil,” it is that the United States, in all its military might, wields no direct coercive measures over Pyongyang. However, with support from the stakeholders (particularly Russia and China) to faithfully carry out globally-imposed sanctions, North Korea would be unable to refuse, otherwise faced with imminent regime change. Convincing all stakeholder nations to rally together, though, will demand that Trump ensures that peace and mutual economic prosperity are achieved, the regime survives, and the U.S. refrains from exploiting the power vacuum left by sudden denuclearization.

4. Failure to recognize the true nature of the nuclear program

North Korea’s nuclear weapons function not only as deterrence against real or imagined military threat, but also as the basis of the regime’s legitimacy; the development of nuclear weapons directly fulfilled the wishes of North Korea’s previous leader, Kim Jong-il, as well as the great revolution philosophies established by the country’s founder, Kim Il-sung. Therefore, the program will never be merely relinquished, even if confronted with the risk of mass starvation or total destruction. Previous administrations have failed to recognize this dual nature, thereby neglecting to offer Kim Jong-un an equally credible source of domestic legitimacy in exchange for dismantlement. To rise above the failures of the past, Trump must present the regime with a deal which preserves its revered status through transformation to a market-oriented system and genuine, sustained economic growth of at least 10 percent, guaranteed by the endowment of a development fund from South Korea—no less than $30 billion annually for a minimum duration of ten years.

5. Incoherent policies

Whether through unfulfilled promises or empty threats, previous administrations have time and again shown their inability to approach North Korea with a rational, cohesive policy which incorporates all stakeholder interests, guarantees regime survival, and involves adequate enforcement. The stakeholder nations must collectively pressure Kim to choose either imminent regime collapse due to unrelenting sanctions or a genuine chance of survival through rapid economic modernization. Moving forward, they must jointly enforce the terms of agreement to induce the transformation of the regime from a hostile and totalitarian state into a respectable member of the global community, guided by free market principles. Attempts of the past have set their sights only halfway, leveraging short-term economic reward in return for temporary freezes of the nuclear weapons program. President Trump’s game plan must be long-term, it must offer a viable alternative for regime survival, and it must produce complete dismantlement.

If Trump provides Kim and the remaining stakeholder nations with a blueprint which remedies these five mistakes and offers tangible solutions, he will undoubtedly make his mark in history as the American president responsible for leading the charge for the peaceful denuclearization of North Korea. Should he fail to take these considerations into account, however, the consequences could be catastrophic.

Dr. Chan Young Bang is the President of KIMEP University, Principal Investigator at the DPRK Strategic Research Center, and former Economic Advisor to President Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan. He has published numerous articles and seven books on prospects for peaceful settlement of the North Korean nuclear conflict, and he is currently working to organize a research conference in Pyongyang, North Korea.

Image: A combination photo shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (L) in Pyongyang, North Korea and U.S. President Donald Trump (R), in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., respectively from Reuters files. REUTERS/KCNA handout via Reuters & Kevin Lamarque​