President Trump shakes hands with Kim Jong-un, June 12th 2018
The urgency of the nuclear threat posed by North Korea has once again become apparent. In the face of proposed denuclearization talks, North Korea has carried out eight rounds of missile launches since July. Meanwhile, ballistic missiles capable of striking southern Japan have recently been discovered in the country. In spite of these events, President Trump has displayed little concern. His current demeanor aligns with statements made back in July: Trump asserted that there is “plenty of time” to negotiate because he wants to “get it right”.
For Trump, approaching denuclearization the right way means building an amicable relationship with Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un. From friendly gestures to unprecedented meetings, Trump strives to improve his rapport with the North Korean leader. Rather than rectify the tense situation, this policy hampers future U.S. negotiation efforts and creates a false sense of progress. Through Trump’s current strategy, the nuclear threat posed by North Korea is prolonged.
All the recent praises and displays of goodwill paid to Kim are problematic -- especially when it obstructs U.S. foreign policy. Trump’s order back in March to withdraw sanctions because he “likes” Kim Jong-un is a striking example of this. Announcing this decision a day after the penalties were imposed, he contradicted the policy of sustaining economic pressure recommended by national security experts and trusted aids alike. U.S. credibility was weakened as a result. How can North Korea take U.S. threats and actions seriously if the head of state is liable to dramatically reversing them? While Trump’s relationship-building efforts may coerce North Korea to the negotiating table, the divided home front it creates adds another confounding factor for the U.S. once there.
As part of his strategy, President Trump has held a series of meetings with Kim with misleading outcomes. Symbolic progress towards normalizing relations had seemingly been made with the 2018 Singapore Summit marking the first-ever meeting between a sitting U.S. President and North Korean leader. However, these meetings have yet to produce tangible strides towards denuclearization, instead evoking a false sense of security. It becomes increasingly difficult, within the United States, to consider North Korea a threat when news media is flooded every few months with pictures of President Trump and Kim Jong-un at ease with one another. In consequence, the urgent nature of the North Korean threat is diminished, which in turn gives Kim more time to pursue his nuclear program.
The focus President Trump gives in building a relationship with Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un is ill-advised. The additional barriers created for diplomats abroad and relaxed attitudes encouraged among citizens at home only serves to make the situation more difficult to approach. In the interim, new missiles continue to be launched and discovered. Rather than have faith in the relationship with a foreign dictator to denuclearize North Korea, Trump’s trust would be better placed among his advisors and diplomats to “get it right”.