Examining the Entrails of the Singapore Summit
The June 12–13 Singapore Summit is over. Now the partisan analysis begins. Is the “glass” half full? A quarter full? Contains just a few drops? Is there a glass at all?
Certainly, there has been as much bloviating bombast as a hyperactive, 5,000-individual media contingent (complemented by thousands of critics/commentators/analysts around the globe) could possibly produce.
The essential problem is that they are attempting to make a 12-course dinner from a few selected crumbs. Reporters have been limited to photo-ops, brief videos, and attempts to read “body language.”
There is a reason for this: An essential element of negotiations is that one sees only the iceberg’s tip in comparison to what is actually in process. As a corollary, those who talk, don’t know; those who know, don’t talk.
We have no idea what President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un discussed in their 30-minute tête-à-tête before team meetings began. Information on the full team meetings is largely unknown.
We do not know the contents of multiple meetings between national leaders in the summit runup: for instance, Kim’s two trips to Beijing; his meetings with South Korean President Moon Jae-in; Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s meetings with Trump; U.S. Secretary State Mike Pompeo’s meetings with Kim; or any of the multiple pre-summit sessions.
And Pompeo’s briefings with South Korean, Japanese, and Chinese leaders presumably were more than standard reassurance updates.
So what do we have from the summit?
- A unique set of meetings between leaders who a few months ago were globally regarded as implacably hostile, exchanging slangy slurs ranging from rhetorical excess to blunt threats of nuclear annihilation;
- A number of second- and third-echelon, good faith actions, including the release of three U.S. citizens jailed on spurious charges, presumably to use as bargaining chips, and destruction of a Pyongyang nuclear test site;
- An amusing four-minute U.S.-produced video (done in North Korean propaganda style) to tell Kim of his country’s glorious future, should he denuclearize;
- A joint communique replete with BOMFOG (brotherhood of man; fatherhood of God) language but short on specifics of the what, when, or how that would comprehensively denuclearize the North Korean weapons and missile program—with full verification.
As the 400-word communique has been much-parsed, the following are the operative points, minus the persiflage:
- The United States and North Korea commit to establishing new U.S.–DPRK relations in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity.
- The United States and North Korea will join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.
- Reaffirming the April 27, 2018, Panmunjom Declaration, North Korea commits to working toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
- The United States and North Korea commit to recovering POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.
And both sides commit “to implement the stipulations in this joint statement fully and expeditiously.” Follow-on negotiations led by Pompeo “at the earliest possible date” will “implement the outcomes of the … summit.”
With over-the-top rhetoric, Trump has announced the end of the nuclear threat to the United States, praised Kim (in effect given him a tabula rasa and stared past Pyongyang’s execrable human rights record), and invited Kim to the White House.
Critics are urinating (not just raining) on Trump’s parade.
They have belabored the absence of “verifiable and irreversible” in describing denuclearization. (Pompeo testily termed the question “ludicrous,” emphasizing that such commitments were subsumed under “complete.”)
They have questioned the indefinite suspension of joint military maneuvers with the South. However, one can easily hypothesize it is the “quid” for North Korea’s suspension of nuclear and missile testing.
An enormous amount remains to be done. We’ve put the flagpole atop the skyscraper and now must complete the rest of the building.
What can we expect? History says Kim will escape and evade real compliance with our objectives. On the other hand, prior to the INF Treaty, the Soviets had never adhered to an agreement with the United States.
At best, we have taken the first step in a very, very extended process of painstaking tit-for-tat negotiation that draws down Pyongyang’s nuclear, missile, and chemical capabilities. For example, Kim may return the USS Pueblo held now for 50 years. Or there may be some creative mechanism with multiple countries (China, South Korea, Switzerland, etc.) providing overwatch of facilities and weapons depots.
And it also depends on Kim’s continued primacy in Pyongyang. Some of his entourage may be less interested in playing nice, preferring confrontation.
Essentially, the Singapore summit was just the end of the beginning, and what was started there may conclude well—or badly.
David T. Jones is a retired U.S. State Department senior foreign service career officer who has published several hundred books, articles, columns, and reviews on U.S.–Canadian bilateral issues and general foreign policy. During a career that spanned over 30 years, he concentrated on politico-military issues, serving as an adviser for two Army chiefs of staff. Among his books is “Alternative North Americas: What Canada and the United States Can Learn from Each Other.”
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.