July 26, 2018 | By Ivo H. Daalder

This Week's Reads: Checking in on North Korea

Six weeks after the Singapore summit between North Korea's Kim Jong-Un and President Donald Trump, it’s worth checking in on what’s happened in terms of implementing the promises both leaders made.

There have been some positive signs. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to Pyongyang to begin negotiating the next steps on implementation. There have been some lower level meeting to try and move the ball forward. Earlier this week there were reports that North Korea was beginning to dismantle its satellite launching facility, which for some years has been the main site for launching its rockets. And there has also been word that the North Koreans are finally prepared to hand-over some remains of US servicemen who died during the Korean War. And there have been no further missile or nuclear tests from the North.

While welcome, these are hardly the breakthrough steps that Singapore seemed to promise and that the president claimed to have achieved when he tweeted upon his return from the summit that “there is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.” Secretary Pompeo testified that the North is continuing to produce the materials necessary to build new nuclear bombs. No weapons or missiles have been eliminated, nor have any international inspectors be allowed to visit any weapons sites. Pyongyang has refused to detail its nuclear and missile programs and has committed to nothing other than repeating its long-standing goal of “denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.”

In reality, the nuclear and missile threat today remains as big and strong as it was the day of the Singapore summit. While some talks are ongoing, they have not produced any further results. Pompeo’s two days in Pyongyang ended without a meeting with Kim Jong-un and with the North Koreans accusing Washington of making “gangster-like” demands. So when Pompeo recently said a lot of work remains to be done, he wasn't kidding.

While frustrating, the lack of progress was wholly predictable. Indeed, it was predicted, by just about everybody who has had any dealings with North Korea over the last 25 years.

President Trump insisted on an unorthodox top-down approach, hoping it would lead to a different—and better—result than his three immediate predecessors could have achieved. Normally progress begins at the bottom and makes its way to the top only when deals are ready to be signed and pictures are ready to be taken. So far, the reverse approach has produced plenty of pictures, but no real negotiations, let alone any reduction in capabilities.

President Trump recently said he was not in a rush to complete the negotiations, which is a good thing. Because it is going to take years to see progress, assuming the North is interested in a real deal. The danger, however, is that further lack of progress will lead a president known for his unpredictability and not known for his patience to shift course and return to the more confrontational "fire and fury" approach of yesteryear.

Some cajoling and threatening may be useful to get a process moving, but the real issue remains, as it has been from the start, whether the North Koreans are willing to relinquish the very nuclear capabilities on which they believe their survival depends. Singapore didn’t resolve that question. Neither has its aftermath.

As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions.


Henry Kissinger: “We Are in a Very, Very Grave Period”

Edward Luce / The Financial Times

Luce spends lunch at a French restaurant with Henry Kissinger, trying to get the “grand consigliere of American diplomacy” to divulge his thoughts on President Trump. Although the former Secretary of State is loath to talk at length about the US leader, he does offer up his opinions on China, Russia, and the dangers of artificial intelligence. Toward the end of the meal, Kissinger does take Luce’s bait, but with the self-restraint of an elder statesman: “I think Trump may be one of those figures in history who appears from time to time to mark the end of an era and to force it to give up its old pretenses.”

The Trump First Doctrine

The Editorial Board / The Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal offers what it calls a “realistic assessment” of the fallout from President Trump’s week in Europe. Starting with NATO, the editorial board labels the result of Trump signing the 23-page communique, despite bullying allies and insulting Germany, “…better than many feared.” With Britain, Trump “turned a friendly visit into a fiasco” by criticizing Theresa May’s Brexit strategy and then stoked European resentments by calling the EU a “foe” on trade. The authors don’t mince words on Trump’s Helsinki summit with Putin, writing that the joint press conference was, “…a personal and national embarrassment.”


Russia Might Have Been Lost from the Start

Fareed Zakaria / The Washington Post

Since the mid-1990s, experts and scholars have posited the idea that the US missed its opportunity to integrate Russia into the Western world after the Cold War. And although Zakaria believes both presidents H.W. Bush and Clinton could have made better attempts at a Russian reset, “...it has also become clear that there were many powerful reasons why US-Russia relations might have been destined to deteriorate.” Among these reasons are the expansion of NATO and US interventions in the Balkans, as well as, “…the bypassing of democratic institutions and rule by presidential decree…” that became common during Yeltsin’s presidency and increased during Putin’s.

Trump’s Putin Fallout: Inside the White House’s Tumultuous Week of Walk-Backs

Ashley Parker, Philip Rucker, Josh Dawsey, and Carol D. Leonnig / The Washington Post

“For Trump and his White House, the days that followed the Helsinki summit amounted to an unofficial Walk Back Week­–a daily scramble of corrections and clarifications from the West Wing,” according to The Post. Based on interviews with a dozen administration officials and Trump confidants, the authors piece together five hectic days that began with the Helsinki fallout and ended with the report that the FBI had a recording of Trump and his then-attorney, Michael Cohen, discussing hush payments to a Playboy model. The article is perhaps best summed up by former White House press secretary Sean Spicer: “He has broken the mold when it comes to…what would have been a showstopper for any other politician.”

A New Battle for Guadalcanal, This Time with China

Damien Cave / The New York Times

After years of largely unchecked Chinese investment and immigration throughout the South Pacific, the US and Australia are stepping up their efforts across the region to warn local officials against relying too much on Beijing, Cave writes. Pacific aid from the US, The World Bank, and Australia has jumped in recent years, with a large portion of the Australian’s money going toward installing an undersea cable connecting Guadalcanal to its global internet hub. “Experts consider Australia’s spending spree the strongest example yet of its intensified push to counter Chinese efforts in the region,” Cave writes.


Ambassador Huntsman to Gehrke: Why I’m Staying

Ambassador Jon M. Huntsman / The Salt Lake Tribune

US Ambassador to Russia and former governor of Utah, Jon Huntsman, defends his diplomatic post after a Tribune columnist called for his resignation earlier in the week following President Trump’s Helsinki summit. Ambassador Huntsman makes clear the distinctions between his job and the journalist’s, adding that he’s inspired to continue on as ambassador alongside foreign service representatives, civil service, military, and intelligence specialists he serves alongside who have, “…neither the time no inclination to obsess over politics, though the issues of the day are felt by all.” “Their service to their country is above politics, and it inspires me to the core. It is my standard,” he writes.


Anticipating Putin’s Next War

Radoslaw Sikorski / The Washington Post

Sikorski writes that what kept him up at night as Poland’s foreign minister was the fear of Russian President Vladimir Putin starting a hybrid war against his country as he had done to Georgia and Ukraine. He goes on to describe an even darker scenario based on what analysts call “escalating to de-escalate,” a Russian strategy designed to stun leaders with the detonation of a nuclear weapon so that they give up right away. “The whole purpose of NATO is to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Sikorski writes. “The security of Europe’s northern flank depends on the perception that the United States is prepared to use force there.”


Europe and Asia Move to Bolster Global Systems That Trump Has Attacked

Steve Erlanger and Jane Perlez / The New York Times

“From trade to regulation to security, America’s traditional allies are accelerating their efforts to buttress a global system that President Trump has seemed prepared to tear down,” Erlanger and Perlez write. The same day Trump praised Putin as a competitor after having dismissed the EU as an economic foe, European and Chinese leaders met in Beijing and produced, “…an unusual joint declaration and a common commitment to keep the global system strong. The next day, the Europeans traveled to Japan and signed the biggest free trade agreement in history, just the sort of deal the Trump administration has criticized.” Europe and other parts of the world have accepted that President Trump and his mission of disruption are not going away, Erlanger and Perlez write, so for now, they’re making contingency plans.

With Brexit Deadlocked, Britain Stares Over a Cliff

Stephen Castle / The New York Times

Britain’s deadline is less than nine months away and there is no workable plan in sight, Castle argues. “Parliament is paralyzed. Prime Minister Theresa May is besieged. Her Conservatives are bitterly divided…” Castles writes. At the prime minister’s country residence earlier this month, May presented a white paper aimed to soften the economic impact of Brexit, but hardliners attacked it and ministers on both sides resigned. Castle quotes some experts who think that as deadlock continues, the EU may become more flexible, while others say if May doesn’t strike a deal by January, “...her Parliament would rise up and force an election to avoid the cliff edge. Perhaps for that, the clock could be stopped in Brexit negotiations.”

Pave Over the Subway? Cities Face Tough Bets on Driverless Cars

Emily Badger / The New York Times

Visions of the future of autonomous vehicles that have crept into politics unnerve some transportation planners and transit advocates, Badger writes, “…who fear unrealistic hopes for driverless cars–and how soon they’ll get here­­–could lead cities to mortgage the present for something better they haven’t seen.” For example, as New York’s subway demands repairs, futurists have proposed paving over the rail instead for underground highways. Theoretically, when autonomous vehicles become mainstream, rides could be as cheap as bus fare and nearly as fast and efficient as railways. That said, the best rail systems can carry more than 50,000 passengers per lane per hour–no technology can overcome that geometry, Badger writes.

Israel Picks Identity Over Democracy. More Nations May Follow.

Max Fisher / The New York Times

Fisher writes that in 1967, Israel’s founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, issued a warning that Israel give up the territories it had conquered or risk corroding democracy from within. Israel recently declared itself the “nation-state of the Jewish people,” and although its circumstances may seem unique, Fisher argues that its sense of facing a looming decision about its national identity is not. Providing examples in Europe and the United States, Fisher adds, “Israelis are less alone than they once were in questioning the half-century-old consensus that democracy should prevail over national identity.”


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