Analysis & Opinions - The National Interest

Misunderstanding Trump's "Failed" Hanoi Summit

| Mar. 01, 2019

The press has universally declared this week’s summit between President Donald Trump and Chairman Kim Jong-un in Hanoi, Vietnam a “failure.” From the headlines of the New York Times and Washington Post to the Blob, Trump has been indicted for diplomatic malpractice. As Richard Haass summarized the matter: “The Hanoi summit showed the dangers of a president who over-personalizes diplomacy.”

If this were just another card in the political war between Trump and the anti-Trumpers, I would not be moved to comment. But since the issue of North Korea’s nuclear program is one that could lead to a nuclear bomb exploding in an American city, the U.S. government’s efforts to prevent that really matters. So, here are my four takeaways.


Takeaway 1:

In their approach to North Korea, Trump and his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, have departed dramatically from established Washington diplomatic practice. The reason why is best explained by a Chinese proverb: “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” Over the past two decades, as the administrations of Barack Obama and George W. Bush followed the advice of the foreign policy establishment, what happened? A small, isolated hermit kingdom proceeded to test a nuclear device, develop missiles that could deliver nuclear weapons against American troops and allies in South Korea and Japan, produce an arsenal of as many as sixty nuclear warheads, and reach the threshold of an ability to deliver nuclear-armed ICBMs against the American homeland.

Trump and Pompeo rightly judged that to be an American failure.


Takeaway 2:

In contrast, the Trump administration took a page from Ronald Reagan’s playbook in his dealings with Mikhail Gorbachev—a playbook that eliminated all Soviet intermediate nuclear forces and ultimately precipitated the collapse of the Soviet Union. In Reagan’s case, the primary target was not the items about which the United States and the Soviet Union were negotiating—numbers of warheads, missiles, etc.—but the mind of an autocrat whom he thought he could persuade to try to transform his entire country.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Allison, Graham.“Misunderstanding Trump's "Failed" Hanoi Summit.” The National Interest, March 1, 2019.