On the campaign trail Donald Trump’s message to black voters was, “Vote Republican because what do you have to lose?”. The same sentiment can be applied to the summit between the United States and North Korea. Way back in 1978 when I was working in the White House, the foreign-policy team again and again came up empty-handed when attempting to deal with the North Korean government. And that was before North Korea had nuclear weapons. I support the summit and, as difficult as it is, I applaud President Trump for deciding to proceed. I also congratulate those involved for keeping this breathtaking initiative from the press. In my experience even keeping minor policy positions from leaking is difficult, let alone something as big as a summit with North Korea.
Those who oppose this settlement are mostly from the old school of foreign policy that has not changed much since the Cold War. In their view, negotiations should be between Trump’s foreign policy team with their counterparts in North Korea. Only after that should heads of state meet to announce the agreements reached by their government’s negotiators. This style of diplomacy still has its place but only when dealing with countries that we recognize as part of the world community. Diplomats like to negotiate with diplomats, seek agreements and only then involve the head of state. Over the last two decades, this is kind of diplomacy has been an utter failure between the US and North Korea. During this time we have played by the old rules, the North Koreans have preceded to develop a military capacity quicker then we had anticipated. We are dealing with two heads of state who are abnormal to say the least. They want to do the negotiations and not have underlings do it for them.
The North Koreans have indicated they are prepared to stop their missile tests and not interfere with US/ South Korean military exercises. The US has offered nothing as a prelude to the Summit. I am frankly amazed that the North Koreans allowed an announcement of a Summit to go forward without the US outlining those areas for negotiation. The anti-summit crowd says that if no agreements are reached at the Summit then the United States will lose prestige in the world community. As I stated before, the US has lost prestige with every forward step towards a nuclear capability taken by the North Koreans. Even if no agreements are reached at minimum the two leaders recognize that complete failure is not an option and an announcement of further meetings and perhaps another summit should go forward.
Why do we think that the South Koreans strongly favor the summit when they have the most to lose under the status quo? To do nothing is extremely dangerous. To have a Summit, even if nothing tangible comes out of it limits the danger, buys both sides time, and will at a minimum lead to further discussions.