The planes landed. The security was tight. The cameras were ready. After months of strutting, squabbling, and speculation, two of the most controversial world leaders finally met in person. Donald Trump: the American President known for his crude tweeting and undiplomatic phone calls, will soon be face to face with Kim Jong Un: the tyrannous dictator of North Korea.
The two leaders have a somewhat unique relationship. Not long ago, they were threatening nuclear war at each other over Twitter. Trump called the North Korean leader “little rocket man”, and Kim Jong Un fired back by calling the American President a “Dotard”, much to the amusement of twitter users. Trump changed his mind and decided they should be friends. He invited Mr Kim for a summit. Soon after, he cancelled. After a flurry of diplomacy, the summit was back on. Scheduled for Monday 11th June 2018.
Since then the pair have continued to switch between love and hate. Kim reportedly chose to visit a potato farm rather than meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo earlier this month. However, the North Korean leader did give Trump a “very nice” letter.
Both leaders heralded the summit as a big success, and their handshake made international headlines, but in reality it was a bit wishy-washy. Looking back at their summit begs the question: what long term difference will it really make?
Yes Kim Jong Un did agree to denuclearisation, but there was no guarantee of foreign verification. The deal looks good on paper, but in reality there are so many loopholes and not enough clarity. If North Korea genuinely wants to denuclearise there’s nothing stopping them, but this deal doesn’t necessarily mean they will.
Both sides have been clear that the summit would the start of a process, and the goal wasn’t to emerge with a finished deal. What will come next, if both sides stay genuinely committed, is decades of hard negotiations. Only then will will we really know whether this summit was a success.
Things have been moving forwards. North Korea may be starting to dismantle a major testing. The American think tank 38 North has described this as a “significant confidence-building measure”. It’s a small yet solid step along the path towards denuclearisation, but the journey ahead will be long, and by no means easy.
But negotiations do turn sour in the coming months and years ahead, what could each side lose?
For Kim Jong Un, the answer is nothing much. If things go horribly wrong he’ll be able to say he convinced one of the most powerful men in the world to meet with him. He has no elections to fight, no journalists questioning him, and his global reputation couldn’t get much worse. On the other hand, he has so much to gain. If negotiations go well and he improves relationships with America, North Korea could work towards denuclearisation and in return see sanctions against them relax.
Although denuclearisation never happens overnight, that summit could be the first step on a long road to a free and fair North Korea. It’s a chance to change perceptions, build trust, and break down borders. The problem? These two men are known for building walls. The lack of trust and openness between them could prove to be fatal to negotiations. That would be a disappointment for Kim Jong Un; but it would be a disaster for Donald Trump.
Many people see this as Trump’s big opportunity to make an impact. After picking fight after fight at the G7 and NATO, he need to prove that his unconventional negotiating techniques are about more than just causing trouble. Although this is his first chance; it could also be his last. The world is watching his every move. Is Donald Trump really the master deal maker he claims to be?
This is the chance to save his image, and to save his party. Midterm elections are fast approaching. His leadership is unstable. If negotiations go well and move fast it could be the popularity boost he needs. If it ends in hurt egos and angry tweet storms, it could contribute to the collapse of the Republican House and Senate majority. Trump has so much to lose.
Even though a deal was agreed, what is stopping “little rocket man” shooting off and breaking his promises? Making deals with a reckless dictator is, unsurprisingly, a risky business. Kim Jong Un has nothing to lose. He’s unlikely to give anything away for free. His nuclear weapons are his most precious possessions and it will take a lot of coaxing to convince him to give them up. We shouldn’t be holding our breath.
Donald Trump has managed expectations awfully. Their meeting could definitely be described as a historic summit, but that doesn’t automatically make it a successful summit. It really was just the beginning of a long and difficult battle. If he wants to see positive action, Trump is going to need all the diplomatic skill he can muster up. It’s crucial that he manages his anger, and puts his ego aside. If he wants history to call his deal a success, he needs to roll up his sleeves and get ready for compromise.