How Trump has already transformed America's relationship with North Korea
The never-will-happen-to-suddenly-on-because-President-Trump-wants-a-place-in-history-to-off-because-he-felt-insulted-to-on-again-because-he-feels-re-respected-by-Kim-Jong-Un summit is, as of this writing, still on. Singaporeans are already seeing signs of an unprecedented security apparatus in advance of the June 12 event.
But even if it is postponed again, President Trump's force of personality, and the transparency of his character and motives, has succeeded in transforming the nature of every future interaction the U.S. has with North Korea, and not in a bad way.
Kim has already reshuffled his national security cabinet, replacing aging members of his deep state with younger aides that the Japanese and South Korean intelligence services consider to be moderate and more amenable to compromise. (This is as much, perhaps, about regime survival as anything, but it still speaks to progress.)
1. Before Trump's audacious endeavor (triggered by Kim's Olympic charm offensive), the U.S. knew next to nothing about the way that North Korea's high command made decisions about everything from trade with China and shows of force against the unified U.S.-South Korea presence to the way that Kim conducted himself in long meetings. Now, the U.S. knows a lot more. There's been a lot more to observe. A lot of behavior to assess. Every scrap of intelligence is important. Knowledge is essential, because:
2. The U.S. and allies still know next to nothing about North Korea's nuclear program. We don't know how their nuclear command and control system works. We don't know if Kim truly "pushes a button" or whether he has delegated authority to generals in an emergency. We don't know whether North Korea is working on ballistic missile defense counter-measures. For the sake of collective defense and safety, the world must learn more about these tetchy subjects. And opening the tent, even slightly, will help our spies and diplomats figure all of this out.
3. Every interaction between, say, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Kim, or Pompeo's counterpart, adds a layer of human interaction, and potentially, builds a reservoir of good will that will help smooth over the indecorous provocations from a president who does not seem to have a grand strategy beyond the promotion of himself as a Great Man.
4. Further, the U.S. and North Korea are talking along multiple tracks, and these tracks will persist regardless of what Trump and Kim can do because they are tied to the future and security of South Korea, which has asserted its hand, rather strongly, in the whole process.
5. Because nuclear weapons are involved, growing mutuality is the essential antidote to decades of posturing and mistrust. And so far, even through the ups and downs of the past six months, interdependence has grown. A "hotline" between Seoul and Pyongyang is now in place. That is an unalloyed good.
The United States for years has pursued a Korea policy based on goals that are now moot through means that were inadequate for the character of the regime. Even if Hillary Clinton had won enough electoral votes to become president, the state of Kim's nuclear proliferation — a "break-out" capacity to threaten U.S. territories with a ballistic missile and a hydrogen bomb — would have been steady. Even if Kim concedes little — that is, if the U.S. "gets nothing" from the negotiations in the near-term — the drama is preparing us well, I think and I hope, for the long-term.