I recently started an internship with the British embassy, and it has pretty much eliminated all of my free time. Therefore, posting may be more erratic and less frequent over the next few months. That being said, I wanted to quickly outline why I think Trump’s idea to meet with Kim is probably not as bad as many seem to believe.
1. We have a lot of people in D.C. who think they know Kim and his motives. They don’t, but they might actually be able to gather some useful information about him and his regime if they can get in a room with him. North Korea is a troublesome state that is an information black hole. It seems to me like getting our diplomats and spies in there is probably worth trying.
2. The whole legitimizing North Korea narrative is a load of rubbish. North Korea exists as a state, its leaders do ghastly things to their citizens, and people know how awful North Korea is. Sending a U.S. president to talk to Kim does not change any of these facts. Refusing to acknowledge North Korea is dumb and accomplishes little. After all, did Mike Pence’s iceman treatment of Kim’s sister change anything in North Korea? Nope. Would people have forgotten how awful the Kim regime is if Pence had acknowledged her? Absolutely not.
3. We’ve had some crooked and objectively unprepared presidents meet leaders of enemy states before. Just look at Nixon in China and Reagan in Reykjavik. Indeed, Reykjavik occurred shortly after the extremely unproductive summit in Geneva, yet it got us closer than ever to total nuclear disarmament. It’s also worth pointing out that both of these meetings were viewed very skeptically at the time, and they both resulted in massively improved relations between the U.S. and its adversaries (China and the USSR, respectively).
4. Denuclearization is not going to happen because a) North Korea has little incentive to go that far and b) it would be impossible to verify. However, it is conceivable that the U.S. will be able to convince Kim to at least halt production and testing of nuclear weapons. The nuclear fuel cycle is much easier to monitor than nuclear weapons, and it’s possible that the U.S. will be able to come up with enough carrots to keep the North Koreans under control.
5. I’ve spoken with several American and British diplomats and intelligence analysts, and they seem far more optimistic about a Trump-Kim meeting than you might think if you just watch the news.
6. This post I wrote back in the summer is worth rereading.
7. Yes, this is Trump. Therefore, anything can happen, and this summit might go catastrophically wrong. However, it’s worth pointing out that Trump’s erratic and mercurial behavior might incentivize Kim to behave himself lest Trump feel he is being played and responds disproportionately. Also, the alternative seems to be a “bloody nose” strike, which seems far worse than a summit that might fail.