- North Korea expert Dr Robert Winstanley-Chesters lectures at Leeds University
- He says Singapore summit could prove to be a success in terms of 'first steps'
- However, he says the agreement between Trump and Kim lacked detail
- Trump promise to end 'war games' with South Korea is huge concession for US
By Dr Robert Winstanley-chesters For Mailonline
Published: 12:03 EDT, 12 June 2018 | Updated: 12:16 EDT, 12 June 2018
North Korea expert Dr Robert Winstanley-Chesters, writing for MailOnline, gives his take on the historic summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and and US President Donald Trump in Singapore.
Dr Winstanley-Chesters is a Lecturer at the University of Leeds and Research Fellow at Australian National University. Previously he was a Post-Doctoral Fellow of Cambridge University (Beyond the Korean War).
It has been a rollercoaster ride to the hotel in Singapore where U.S President Donald Trump met North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un.
From the first moments of rapprochement at the Pyeongchang Olympics, to the emotional meeting between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim at Panmunjom in April, and the unexpected moment when Trump announced he would meet North Korea’s leader, the destination has been unclear.
The car crash of last week's G7 summit, during which Trump tussled with European leaders and was left furious at Canada’s Justin Trudeau’s apparent sleight of hand, did not augur well for events in Singapore.
Baby steps: US President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un shake hands following a signing ceremony during their historic US-North Korea summit
Was it too much to hope that by the time Air Force One touched down in Singapore, Trump's rage would have settled and his mind cleared enough to constructively engage with the North Koreans?
Currently, the most important and challenging conundrum has to be the radically different notions of denuclearisation held by Kim's and Trump's governments.
Yes, of course there are a myriad of other difficult issues to be navigated; from economic integration and Japanese abductees to human rights and infrastructures of incarceration - but what both sides actually mean by denuclearisation when it comes to a coherent and verifiable project of peace-making is fundamentally important.
Washington DC of course means the absolute and fundamental deconstruction and abandonment of North Korea’s nuclear project. Pyongyang on the other hand considers it the withdrawal of US troops from South Korea and the reconfiguration of their nuclear security umbrella in East Asia (primarily by no longer scheduling patrols by US Submarines carrying first strike and retaliatory nuclear weapons within a certain geographic area).
Singapore was of course the place and the moment for both parties to begin the process of squaring the circle on this.
So this afternoon, with Trump on Air Force One heading across the Pacific and Kim Jong Un’s borrowed Air China 747-400 en-route back to Pyongyang after few hours in each others’ direct company negotiating diplomatic niceties, what can the world take from this fascinating political theatre?
If first steps are what was required to call Singapore a success, then it is one, writes North Korea expert Dr Robert Winstanley-Chesters
Showing off: Trump holds up a document signed by him and Kim Jong Un today at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore
Upper hand: Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un became on June 12 the first sitting US and North Korean leaders to meet, shake hands and negotiate to end a decades-old nuclear stand-off
Ultimately, it depends on what you were looking for. Following President Moon's brave moment of connection with the North Koreans at the Pyeongchang opening ceremony, much of the performance this year has been about first steps.
Given the disaster that Donald Trump left behind in Quebec City last week, that the President and Kim Jong Un actually met in Singapore, successfully managed to spend a couple of hours together and developed something in the way of rapport is an achievement. The fact that the Minutemen and Tomahawks of the United States have not at any point rained down on Pyongyang, is thanks in part to the anticipation of this extraordinary moment. If current peace and first steps are what was required then Singapore and its preparation can be nothing other than a success.
If, however, circumstances required a coherent, detailed structure of verification when it comes to Pyongyang’s nuclear capabilities, then you must be sorely disappointed. While I am by no means pessimistic on the future potentially provided by Singapore and the process behind it, the four point agreement at the end of it was surprising in its paucity and flexibility.
I expected Trump and the American delegation to attempt in some way to pin North Korea to the wall when it came to future responsibilities - to really nail down what was required at an early stage - but instead there is absolutely nothing of detail.
We got a commitment to denuclearisation of the entire peninsula that moves us no further on from that given by North Korea in April, and no detail on how peace is actually to be built by the United States and North Korea.
Walk the walk: Trump and Kim take a stroll at the hotel during a break in talks today
Further to the agreement itself was the President’s extraordinary statement in the following press conference that United States and South Korean joint military exercises (characterised by the President as ‘war games’) would cease because they were ‘very expensive’ and ‘provocative.’ This they certainly are, and for many years they have been a hugely disruptive moment in the year for diplomacy with Pyongyang, which has always considered them essentially an exercise in invasion practice. It is a huge concession for the United States to make at the outset, and one it appears Trump did not run by the authorities in Seoul, nor the joint South Korea-Us military command, beforehand.
On the face of it, it seems as if Donald Trump has been quick to declare diplomatic victory, while conceding a great deal, in terms of practical ground as well as an enormous amount of the pressure on Pyongyang.
What we still do not have any sense of, is the route from here to the positive future mapped out within the extraordinary video prepared by the White House on the potential of the outcome of the meeting. We do not have any idea of how all of this may be achieved.
This is perhaps not surprising. How could this President, whose focus is notoriously fickle, and who is certainly not one for the nitty-gritty or the detail of geopolitics seriously be expected to have been part of constructing a detailed road map of de-escalation and verification?
Even so, this was what a huge number of experts, diplomats and geopolitical watchers had been hoping for. Their focus now will move on from Singapore, no doubt disappointed and sceptical.
Meanwhile, it appears the President will travel back feeling he has successfully garnished his legacy, and Kim Jong Un will return to Pyongyang with a real story of geopolitical rehabilitation in hand.