On the Road to Singapore
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
If anyone wanted to determine what the results of the Singapore conference will look like when President Trump meets the North Korean leader Kim Jong-on, they need to consider Trump’s performance in Quebec at the G-7 conference. The President called out the G-7 before he left the White House for having ousted Russia. Clearly, for Trump human rights and blatant aggression against Crimea were not reasons to continue to exclude Russia from these meetings.
Trump also attacked the Canada as well as its Prime Minister even before he arrived in Quebec. His imposition of trade tariffs was not to be questioned and Trump enjoyed seeing America’s allies squirm. As Trudeau and Macron led a push back, Trump left the summit early to fly on to Singapore. Then Trump reneged on signing the joint communique. (Not that it will matter to Trump, but America’s allies may well be prepared to confront him and the United States in a way not seen since prior to World War II.)
Trump’s arrogance and lack of any diplomatic finesse were appalling, but were intended to signal to President Kim that Trump was coming to the Singapore ready to engage. The President will want to control the Singapore meeting and the spin. He will determine how it will play and assumes that he can bring President Kim along. If not, he will slam the North Korean leader and portray himself as the protector of world interests.
Trump very much wants a positive outcome as he believes the meeting itself is sufficient to warrant receipt of the Nobel Peace prize. If Kim agrees to continuing discussions on how to denuclearize the Korean peninsula, Trump will declare this a major achievement. Trump will return home triumphant, although nothing will have yet been achieved. The President will either proclaim a major breakthrough or will grind up the Little Rocket man.
Kim comes to Singapore already having achieved a major global breakthrough. The world—read the U.S.—now has recognized North Korea as a player on the world stage because North Korea is now a nuclear power. Kim’s patron in Beijing now has an ally or even a belligerent surrogate on the world stage.
It is clear that the American President views the very fact that the meeting is happening as a victory—regardless of the result. For America’s regional friends, the threat of a nuclear North Korea remains very real. Even in the best case scenario, this meeting will produce no resolutions regardless of how the President seeks to spin it. South Korea and Japan still must live for the foreseeable future in the shadow of a nuclear North Korea. This reality is more compelling than any pompous communique which might emerge. For America’s allies, there is no way to calculate what type of actual steps will develop and what might be the consequences. As was seen in Quebec, this Administration is operating totally outside the norms of traditional diplomacy. The consequences for the world eventually could be dire.