Trump-Kim Summit: A Gamble Beyond Optics

June 15, 2018 Asia , China , Opinion , OPINION/NEWS , United States

Reuters photo



S B Asthana



The world is talking of this Summit as a historic moment with hopes that it will bring peace to the Korean Peninsula. Reading between the lines, beyond the niceties and magnificent optics displayed, some realities do emerge, which will indicate that it is the beginning of a great gamble by both sides. This issue had crossed the limit of being a bilateral one and it impacts other stakeholders as well, hence this may not be the last call on peace of the Korean Peninsula.


In real terms North Korea continues to be saddled with continued economic sanctions and the US continues to be suspicious of implementation of the complete, irreversible, verifiable denuclearization, hence will lift sanctions only ‘when nukes are no longer an issue’. Both leaders can pat their back as the US has made Kim sign the document on denuclearization in a manner it suits them, and Kim has been able to get the offensive military exercises/war games off his mind at least for some time, having bought time for the next step.



A happy ending Summit: Was there any other option?


US and North Korea have called the Summit a historic success, but it was also a compulsion in light of a lack of alternatives. It was the only practical option because a failed summit was not suiting either side. At face value all world leaders have expressed happiness over the Summit and have hoped for a peaceful Korean Peninsula, but it needs to be analysed whether their concerns have been met or otherwise.


— US will continue to be apprehensive till it is verified that North Korea is no more capable of nuking its mainland. US may have taken off continuation of military exercises, but it is yet to be clarified if it is going to take off THAAD, which was a concern of China and Russia also.


— North Korea having signed the document, will be forced to think that with economic sanctions being in place, was it a big gamble to give away its only strategic leverage? As an analyst it looks too good to be true. It however remains to be seen whether China will allow Kim to be stripped of all nukes. Kim can claim accolades over making President Trump talk to him through nuclear blackmail. This will enhance his credibility in his country as well as in the global arena.


— China highlighting its influence, did talk of its efforts in getting both leaders together, but in a subtle message has indirectly shown concern about the reasonable security and safety of North Korea. Kim had consulted President Xi Jinping twice before the Summit, but it is not sure that the document signed is as per the narrative of President Xi or a variation of the same. China will also be concerned about THAAD and continued sanctions, leaving an ambiguity to send their trade items and essentialities to North Korea or otherwise.


— Japan will continue to be skeptical of North Korea, because even if North Korea does denuclearize, the missile threat will continue to loom over its territory, notwithstanding a remark by President Trump that Kim has agreed to destroy a missile site.


— South Korea will be happy as its efforts to get the two leaders across the table have finally borne fruits, and there is a move forward. They would genuinely look for peace, as Seoul is within reach of conventional weapons of North Korea.


— Russian may have to wait for clarifications on THAAD deployment, a concern they have been airing earlier.


— India will welcome a peaceful Korean Peninsula, but would be keen on some control on North Korea on alleged proliferation of missile technology to Pakistan.



It remains to be seen as to what the future has for the Korean Peninsula, but it was interesting to see the diplomatic negotiations at their best in the run up to the Summit. It was a commendable diplomatic breakthrough after decades of hostility, but there is still no guarantee that North Korea would follow it up. Equally interesting were the two unpredictable leaders conducting themselves with grace and maturity in a well choreographed event. It will also be interesting to see that in case of leakages in sanctions by any third country, how the US responds after display of such niceties. The final test will be the response of North Korea to the international inspectors of nukes.





This article was originally published by the RIAC and is reproduced with their kind permission





S B Asthana

Major General, Former Additional Director General of Infantry of Indian Army and Head of Training at Defence Services Staff College Wellington.

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