Pundits and commentators found themselves scrambling for the wisdom of hindsight when President Trump announced the cancelling of the summit meeting to be held in Singapore on June 12th, when he and President Kim Jong-un would have changed the world. Hopes, especially in South Korea, were dashed and the Great Deal Maker had to admit defeat in a letter to the North Korean leader that was part fawning and part belligerence and from the syntax clearly dictated by the president himself. Both sides blamed the other for the failure to make a historic meeting but the writing was on the wall for days beforehand and all Trump was doing was bowing to the inevitable.
The ingredients for failure were on the table from the outset. A different perception of what ‘denuclearisation’ meant on either side, with the North Koreans favouring a phased process and the Americans a one-stop operation that swept the board clean was perhaps the greatest flaw. Then there was the unseemly scramble to put together the mechanics of a complex meeting and have ducks in a row before the two leaders sat down in Singapore. With the NK team failing to show up to meet the American planners that quickly became a non-starter. There was nowhere else to go other than out the door.
In real terms, the situation on the Korean Peninsula is almost exactly where it was when the ceasefire was signed on July 27th 1953. Both sides are returned to a default threatening posture and now, unlike then, both sides have the capacity to inflict catastrophic damage. They are unlikely to go to the nuclear option even though America would ‘win’ a nuclear exchange because there is profit for neither in it. Managed instability is and will remain the norm with fluctuations of temperature along the way. China has no investment in the collapse of NK and the prospect of millions of refugees flooding in. President Trump looks something of a chump. He called it wrong and he got played by Kim Jong-un. The newbie, the Apprentice, got himself fired. Game over, for now.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 26th, 2018.