Analysis & Opinions - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

U.S. -North Korea Summitry – Lowering the Bar for a Win-Win?

| Feb. 25, 2019

President Trump will meet with Chairman Kim in Hanoi for their 2nd U.S.-North Korea Summit during February 27-28, 2019.

  • Compared to the “fire and fury” war threats of 2017, the recent exchange of letters between President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un have laid the groundwork for a sequel to the Singapore Summit in June 2018.

The Art of the Deal… is subjective.

  • Front-loading the dismantlement of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) and back-loading denuclearization have created the momentum for exploring the easing of sanctions on North Korea.
  • Each leader has demonstrated his adeptness at devising a definition of success. That sets the stage for a win-win at the next summit in Hanoi – and likely ones after it as well.

A lower bar for success – from denuclearization to arms control and a freeze on testing.

  • Seoul and Beijing prioritize stability on the Korean Peninsula. As such, a North Korea embracing economic development and dismantling its legacy nuclear weapons program while retaining a minimal nuclear deterrent is deemed to be acceptable, in practice.
  • They are not alone. President Trump is redefining success by lowering the bar from denuclearization to a freeze on ICBM and nuclear testing. A core prerequisite of a new package deal is Chairman Kim maintaining a moratorium on testing as a means to keep the American homeland safe.
  • The new normal in the medium term is de facto arms control on the Korean Peninsula as Washington, Pyongyang, and Seoul prioritize the launch of a new era of peaceful co-existence.

The China factor is now gone in Maximum Pressure.

  • The U.S. is still officially adhering to its Maximum Pressure strategy of maintaining economic pressure on the Kim regime until it denuclearizes. However, with China easing up on implementation of these sanctions, Maximum Pressure is a shadow of its former self.
  • President Trump’s ability to link trade and security in his deal making with China to rein in North Korea has passed with the launch of the U.S.-China trade war.

Dr. John Park is the Director of the Korea Project at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Park, John.“U.S. -North Korea Summitry – Lowering the Bar for a Win-Win?.” Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, February 25, 2019.