No matter what happens from here on out between North Korea and the United States, the world will never forget the unprecedented sight of a sitting U.S. President striding across the stage in Singapore to shake hands with the North’s reclusive dictator. Some were overjoyed to see the moment unfold, others were aghast at President Trump’s willingness to grant Kim Jong Un that level of legitimacy.
But regardless of what people think about what unfolded on Tuesday, the real test of the Singapore Summit will play out in the months and years to come. No one in the Trump administration is confused on that point; from the president to John Bolton to Mike Pompeo, everyone understands that this will be a necessarily long and complex road. Will it end in North Korean denuclearization? That’s only one of the many questions we’re left to ponder after this singular moment in world history.
One of those questions amounts to one of definition: How far does North Korea have to go to get relief from sanctions?
The original assumption was that the U.S. would accept nothing less than full denuclearization from the North Korean regime. Meaning that Kim Jong Un would not only have to destroy any current nukes, he would have to destroy any and all nuclear testing facilities and bombmaking sites as well as submit to international inspections. Both the UN and the U.S., in official policy, call for North Korea to submit to “complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement” of their nuclear weapons program. It’s difficult to see how Trump can walk back from this hard line in the sand, but we’ll have to wait and see if human rights violations, ballistic missile testing, and other forms of outlaw behavior will be included in the final pact.
Another question: Is Kim Jong Un really prepared to join the international community in a prosperous way? His actions have of late been promising, but we can’t ignore the true nature of his reclusive regime. He is a brutal dictator by any measure and his treatment of the North Korean people is nothing short of horrifying. He and his family have been threatening the world with nuclear annihilation for years, and his country is all but closed off from the rest of the planet. Is he ready to open North Korea’s doors to the world? Or is he hoping to retain some of the aggression that got his country to the dance in the first place?
We are in uncharted waters in more ways than one; Trump’s willingness to take a huge risk in Singapore shows that he’s hoping to strike an unprecedented bargain for the good of the globe. Unfortunately, it takes two to tango, and North Korea’s track record does not lend itself to a great deal of faith. Hopefully, we’re on the verge of a once-unimaginable breakthrough. It wouldn’t be the first miracle the real estate billionaire from Manhattan has pulled off.