Welcome to North Korean Negotiations 101. North Korea’s reaction to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recent visit to Pyongyang was expected and does not signal the end of the diplomatic process; it just shows us it will be a long and difficult one. On top of dealing with North Korean-style negotiations, President Donald Trump already made important concessions too soon before concrete North Korean denuclearization steps while Kim is playing a long game, looking 40 to 50 years down the road. Trump, on the other hand, seems to be focused on the next 2.5 years, until the next US presidential election in 2020.
The Singapore Summit between the leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Kim Jong-un, and US President Donald Trump—preceded by an historic border crossing and sit-downs with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, and meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping—is a tremendous moment by any measure. Almost exactly 55 years after the Korean Armistice Agreement, the prospect of a formal end to the Korean War and significantly thawed relations on the Korean Peninsula seems possible. Just a few months ago, North Korea and US were threatening each other with war.
The United States may soon have a shot at talking directly to North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. Given this unique opportunity, what foreign policy tactics should US negotiators use in the effort to denuclearize the Korean peninsula? It may seem strange, but negotiators might consider taking a lesson from the FBI and the field of Crisis Negotiation to show us a better path to de-escalation.
America’s leadership in the Asia Pacific was founded in the ashes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and on its status as the first atomic power. Nuclear weapons thereafter defined Asian geopolitics. Today, on the Korean Peninsula, nuclear technology is again set to feature in a dramatic shift in Asia’s power balance. With a summit meeting between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un now in prospect, future historians may come to see North Korea’s nuclear-armed ballistic missiles as the trigger that unravels America’s strategic leadership of Asia.
This article was originally published by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) on 5 January 2017.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un’s conciliatory gestures towards South Korea are a welcome move. But they should not belie the high possibility that it will continue ballistic missile and warhead testing in 2018.