Kim-Trump Summit in Singapore: Everyone Lost

On June 12, 2018, despite all the difficulties and doubts, the historic summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un finally took place in Singapore, and both leaders signed a joint document. Andrei Lankov, professor at the Seoul-based Kookmin University, spoke about the content of the official paper, the results of the summit and why there is no reason to be happy now, in an interview with

The outcome of the summit was somewhat unexpected. From the very beginning, it was obvious that the “complete, verifiable and irreversible” nuclear disarmament, which the US has been talking about for many years, is an absolutely unrealistic and politically impossible demand. From the North Korean point of view, such disarmament would be a suicidal step, and the country’s elites are not planning to commit political suicide en masse. However, the toothlessness and non-specificity of the final document turned out to be a real surprise. Until the last moment, there was a feeling that all the master cards were in the hands of the Americans. When, in mid-May, in response to the rather cautious (by the North Korean standards) criticism of the US position, Trump cancelled the summit and North Korea was pleading for a meeting, this event could be interpreted unequivocally that the North Koreans felt trapped and were ready to make concessions.

However, no serious concessions were made. The final document is extremely toothless and vague. It was expected to mention some steps by North Korea to reduce its nuclear and missile potential: for example, dismantling of some facilities of the nuclear production complex and even delivery of some quantity of enriched uranium and weapon-grade plutonium for storage to the United States or third countries. There is not a word about this in the document. The only additional point concerns the search for the remains of US military personnel who were killed on the territory of the DPRK during the Korean War. This, of course, sells well in the US, but for everyone else the fate of these skeletons is quite irrelevant. Therefore, one can only wonder what caused this decision and how the North Koreans, being in a seemingly extremely unprofitable situation, managed to beat the Americans. Obviously, they had an almost flat victory in this round. This is huge embarrassment for the American diplomacy and, specifically, for the diplomacy of President Trump, who, having all the trump cards in his hands, has achieved absolutely nothing.

As for Russia’s interests, there is no reason to be happy about this embarrassment. In the conditions of the US-Russian rivalry, there is such temptation. Rivalries come and go, but interests remain. In particular, in Russia’s interest is restriction – or even prohibition – of the nuclear weapons proliferation. What happened in Singapore will be another serious blow to the non-proliferation regime, which is more important for Russia than it is for the United States. The reason is simple: among the five officially recognized nuclear powers, Russia has the most modest GDP – at least in absolute terms. Accordingly, the military aspect of state power is more crucial for Russia than it is for China or the United States. Therefore, there is no need to rejoice that the opportunity to limit the North Korean nuclear potential was actually lost because of incomprehensible actions.

Now additional talks are likely to begin, which will run for months and years. The summit in Singapore demonstrated once again that North Korean diplomats know their work brilliantly, although that was clear before. They sharpened their skills on the Chinese, South Koreans, Japanese, Americans, and – perhaps first of all – on Russians, who have been successfully manipulated for decades. Now they showed their high class on the Americans. The result of the first round of negotiations makes us suspect that the subsequent rounds will be also lost by the Americans. Then Trump will leave, taking with him the factor of threat and apprehension about the possible use of military force. As a result, we will find ourselves in the situation of 2017: North Korea will actively develop its nuclear and missile technologies, much more than it is necessary to ensure the country’s defense capability. This will create a dangerous precedent and increase the chances of proliferation of nuclear weapons and missile technologies.

Everyone lost. The reasons of the loss will be discussed by historians for decades, even for centuries. We do not know much yet, but the result was discouraging.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.