Hanoi Summit Ends Without a Clear Conclusion
By Noah Kotlarek
It has been almost nine months since President Donald Trump and Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un met in Sentosa, Singapore, and it seems as if North Korea has been completely dismissed as a threat in the interim. Trump and Kim’s summit in 2018 may not have denuclearized the peninsula but it did reduce the probability of war – bigly. During the Obama Administration, the two nations had chilly relations at best. After the Singapore Summit however, the two countries were not threatening war but talking: a substantial improvement.
Trump and Kim’s second meeting in Hanoi, Vietnam on February 27, 2019 was not as pleasant. It ended a day early and with no agreement reached between the two parties. The goal of the meeting, at least for the United States, was to denuclearize North Korea and formally end the Korean War. Depending on who you ask the meeting was shelved for different reasons. According to North Korea’s foreign minister, Mr. Ri Yong-ho, Supreme Leader Kim offered to “permanently and completely” dismantle the DPRK’s primary nuclear warhead facility in exchange for the lifting of some sanctions. Mr. Yong-ho added, “given the current level of trust between North Korea and the United States, this was the maximum step we could offer for denuclearization. Mr. Trump however told reporters, “Basically they (North Korean leaders) wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, but we couldn’t do that.” North Korea offered to shut down there Yongbyon Enrichment Center, a fissile facility, in return for the removal of all sanctions. This did not exactly satisfy American interests. The first American priority for the denuclearization of North Korea is shutting down its fissile facilities, of which the Yongbyon center is only one of many. Shutting it down would slow warhead development but not stop it completely and also mean all US sanctions would have to come off. For this, no plans for denuclearization were made. After the summit, Mr. Yong-ho warned, “This kind of opportunity may never come again.” Trump however does not see the Hanoi Summit as a failure but rather part of the process, “I’ve been saying very much from the beginning that speed is not that important to me.” He says the relationship between North Korea and the United States will be solved “with time.” Though complete denuclearization was not achieved, North Korea did however agree to continue its halt on missile testing and the United States promised to continue their halt on their U.S.-South Korea military drills. For now, war continues to be off the table, just as it was in June 2018 after the Singapore Summit.
The Central News Agency of North Korea reported that the President and Supreme leader would “keep in close touch with each other” and “continue productive dialogues.” Though the two leaders plan to meet again in the future, no date has been set up.
Ending the meet without signing any treaty may have been the safest option for the United States. According to Gary Samore, former senior adviser of Weapons of Mass Destruction for President Clinton and Obama, “For Kim, the failure shows that he cannot bypass the U.S. government to get a sweetheart deal directly from President Trump.” Remember, North Korea isn’t winning by not making a deal with the United States. It will still suffer from American sanctions on top of the ones imposed by the United Nations and by not going through with the denuclearization plan it is delaying potential foreign aid and investment. However, this is not to say that North Korea is extremely pressed to have the US sanctions removed as soon as possible. After the 2018 summit in Sentosa, China and Russia laxed their enforcement of sanctions on North Korea, alleviating some of the pressure imposed by U.S. sanctions.
Regardless, North Korea is not going to nuke anybody. Why would they? If its goal is to unite Korea under the Kim dynasty, then they would not nuke South Korea. That would be destroying the lower half of the United Kim Korea. North Korea is not going to nuke China nor the United States. That would be suicidal. Besides, the regime already has warheads capable of hitting Seoul and Los Angeles. For now, the best solution seems to be time as Trump has stated.
On top of this though, maybe the United States should give up some sanctions for the dismantling of some nuclear facilities. Maybe the United States should allow North Korea to continue is nuclear program. Once North Korea feels safe it will be more open to productive diplomacy with the more rational foreign powers. By removing sanctions in exchange for the closing of some WMD facilities and allowing for international interaction, the standard of living for the people of North Korea can be raised. This would still keep Americans safe. North Korea is not going to nuke the U.S. now and would have less incentive to if United States was engaged in increased diplomacy. North Korea wants to be taken seriously, not destroy the world.