Analysis & Opinions - Financial Times

Donald Trump’s Diplomatic Turn to N Korea Deserves Acclaim

| Mar. 12, 2018

In ditching decades of policy, the US president has chosen the wiser path

Donald Trump is right about North Korea, of course. It never made sense for the US to launch a “bloody nose” military strike against Kim Jong Un’s isolated country without having tried diplomacy first.

America and North Korea were on a collision course to war. A unilateral US attack, which had been considered seriously in Washington for months, would have brought with it incalculable risks. The powerful North Korean military would probably have struck back. China might have intervened to defend its border, producing a potential stand-off between Beijing and Washington. US military leaders predicted such a clash would cause tens of thousands of casualties in both South and North Korea. It could have been catastrophic for Mr Trump to choose war before talks on a bitterly divided Korean peninsula.

Sitting US presidents and North Korean leaders have not spoken in seven decades. The only American known to have met Mr Kim is the retired basketball star Dennis Rodman, an athlete of considerable merit but decidedly not the person to negotiate the future of a nuclear crisis. However abruptly Mr Trump has cast aside decades of American policy and his own opposition to talks, he has chosen the wiser path for his country and the world. Better he meet Mr Kim in an extraordinary summit than march off blindly to war.

Still, the devil for Mr Trump will be in the detail. As he contemplates what could be the greatest challenge of his presidency, there is much to give him pause. He must first recognise Mr Kim’s strong position. North Korea has a considerable nuclear arsenal and has made impressive progress in missile tests. Mr Kim will negotiate but continue working behind the scenes to achieve his goal of an intercontinental nuclear missile that can reach any target in America.

Mr Trump should also realise that the North Korean leader has no intention of trading his nuclear programme for peace. Mr Kim considers his nuclear force as the ultimate guarantor of his regime’s security. Even if Mr Trump could convince him to denuclearise, verifying compliance would be difficult. Could Mr Kim be trusted to keep his word? His father forged but violated agreements with previous US presidents Bill Clinton and George W Bush. Mr Kim seeks legitimacy from the talks and ultimately world recognition as a nuclear power.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Burns, Nicholas.“Donald Trump’s Diplomatic Turn to N Korea Deserves Acclaim.” Financial Times, March 12, 2018.