Donald Trump’s actions not only risk alienating US’ adversaries, but also its allies, thus undermining the credibility of the White House across the globe.
The drama playing out in the Korean peninsula does not seem to lack twists. US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un are now embroiled in a diplomatic encounter that can be likened to a game of football, where the goal-posts are either invisible or changing every hour. With North Korea withdrawing from the high-level talks with South Korea, there is a growing possibility of Pyongyang not completely dismantling its nuclear test sites later this month, even though a affirmed that the surface dismantling is underway.
Terming US’ military drills with South Korea as provocative, the Kim regime has even threatened to pull out of the June summit in Singapore, thus putting the progress made in the last few weeks in a limbo. The threats being made are consistent with North Korea’s way of negotiating where it starts with offering hope for a diplomatic resolution and then pull back to extort concessions. Clearly, without securing any resolution with the Kim regime, the Oval Office would avoid making any commitments pertaining to their military drills or strength in the Korean peninsula at this moment.
However, the episode brings to the surface the recurring problem of lack of credibility that have hampered diplomatic resolutions between the two nations. North Korea, across decades, has withdrawn from two International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards agreements, a nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and also walked out of an inter-Korean denuclearisation agreement. The Agreed Framework of 1994, termed as the best deal US could ever negotiate, broke down in 2002. In 2009, North Korea walked out of the six-party talks with China, Russia, Japan, South Korea, and the US. Finally, in 2012, Kim, in an attempt to consolidate power, refused to halt the development of the nuclear weapons.
Today, the lack of credibility is prevalent on both sides of the Pacific. Since transforming the Oval Office into a personal circus, President Trump has enabled US’ exit from the Paris Climate Agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and recently, the Iran Nuclear deal or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which also included the United Kingdom, Russia, European Union, France, China, and Germany. Labelling the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) obsolete, Trump’s actions not only risk alienating US’ adversaries, but also its allies, thus undermining the credibility of the White House across the globe.
Merely hours after Trump staged a walkout from the JCPOA, supported by Israel and Saudi Arabia, the US found itself alienated by the other members of the JCPOA. The deal that was preceded by years of elboarate negotiations amongst the member states, endorsed by the United Nations Security Council, and complied to by businesses operating in Iran, was focussed on reigning a probable rogue nuclear state in the West Asia.
Trump, in his capacity, could not have chosen a worse time to withdraw from the JCPOA. Clearly, the Kim regime must have observed the developments in the Arabian peninsula closely. Asking Kim to give up on his nuclear weapons programme merely a month after walking out on Iran, which was found complying with the deal, is like asking a camel to swim across the Pacific to prove its worth. Alongside, the move has not gone down well with the leaders in Europe, for JCPOA was one of the benchmarks in Europe’s foreign policy. In their collective statement, France, Germany and the United Kingdom affirmed support for the JCPOA and expressed their concern for the actions of the Oval Office.
For long, members of the European Union have seen their alliance with the United States integral to their foreign policies. For some member states, the presence of US within the Transatlantic alliance ensures a buffer from external threats that may originate in Russia or the Middle East, or resolving internal issues pertaining to migration, terrorism and economy. Thus, the Oval Office, as a convenient assumption has often chosen to trample over the global interests of the EU. However, it won’t be long before the latter chooses to resist, given Trump’s walkout from the JCPOA, putting every conventional alliance of the US in question, even if it was founded in a new world order over seven decades ago. The historical glory of the transatlantic alliance is now failing to make up for the lack of credibility that is now a basic feature of Trump’s foreign adventures.
The fallout of the JCPOA, however, will be witnessed in the Korean peninsula. Firstly, the lack of transparency surrounding the summit will be further enhanced. Even though Kim’s regime has emphasised the importance of a denuclearised peninsula, what is not clear is how they are going to go about it. If history is any indicator, Kim would hope for the denuclearisation to occur across years, or even a decade, in lieu of concessions from the West, gradual elimination of economic sanctions, and recognition of the regime in its current form. Alternatively, Kim could drag the negotiations until 2020, and hope for a better barter from the next president, if any.
Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, has called for the denuclearisation of North Korea on the lines of Libya. Kim, who values his survival along with that of his regime, has not taken kindly to the words of Bolton. Given Gaddafi was dragged in the streets and killed by a mob, one can be sure that Kim will not be open to the Libyan model of denuclearisation, and these rogue statements from the White House shall only add to the otherwise prevailing confusion preceding the summit, or even derail it.
China and Russia constitute North Korea’s leading trade partners with China being responsible for 90 per cent of the trade. If the summit between Kim and Trump does end without either of them boasting about their nuclear strength, China and Russia would like their trade ties with North Korea to be resumed.
Assuming Kim does agree to denuclearise, the next challenge for Trump would be getting China, South Korea, and Japan together in a pact. Russia, which for long has desired greater leverage in the affairs of East Asia, would not like to be left out. However, with Trump wrecking the JCPOA, one only wonders where he would find the credibility to establish a framework with China and Russia, especially when the two nations have expressed their desire to honour the deal along with EU, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom.
However, if the summit does not happen or fails to yield any progressive results, the onus will be on China, Russia, South Korea, and Japan to find a way to get North Korea to denuclearise. Time will not be a constraint here as long as Japan does not see missiles fly over its islands. South Koreans are not required to live under a constant threat of war, and the Chinese do not have to worry about a nuclear war breaking out in their backyard. The Asian leaders could explore the possibilities of a framework sans the United States, thus negating the need for its military presence, leadership, and opinion.
In the Arabian and Korean peninsula, the Chinese might may have to make up for the lack of leadership and credibility that currently hampers the global order. If the pursuit of peace in the Korean peninsula warrants a Nobel Peace Prize for Trump, letting go of a controlled nuclear capable state in the Middle East warrants a simple question?
What happened to the good old American credibility and which state can make up for the lack of it?
This is the second in a multi-part series of articles on the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore next month.