‘Trump should try to manage NK nuke, not resolve it’

By Joel Lee
  • Published : Apr 25, 2018 - 18:23
  • Updated : Apr 25, 2018 - 18:23

If US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un indeed hunker down for a historic summit on denuclearizing the North in May or June, the American commander in chief should lower his expectations and take a rational approach of “managing” the issue rather than try to resolve it at once, argued renowned policy wonk Michael Green.

“I think Trump’s big mistake was that he said the problem can be resolved. I don’t think it can be resolved either through diplomacy or war,” Green said at the Asan Plenum 2018 in Seoul on Wednesday, themed on the illiberal international order.

“We have to manage it, which is not easy. We have to have resolve and use our strong alliances. Probably some 99 percent of American foreign policy experts think the program can only be managed. If we get down to a strategy for managing it -- deterring and containing it -- then our next coordination will be much smoother.”

Michael Green, senior vice president for Asia and Japan chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies speaks at Asan Plenum 2018 in Seoul on Wednesday. (Asan Institute for Policy Studies)

Green, senior vice president for Asia and Japan chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said for the time being, he “would not recommend Trump to meet with Kim at all.”

“But this is a big show for our president who loves publicity. So I think he will probably do it,” the director of Asian studies at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University added.

“I would like to see North Korea take concrete actions. If they do, then allow the regime to have a summit with the US president, because they want the summit. So I would make them pay for it,” said Green.

As a sound, realistic piece of advice for the US president, the scholar said Trump would be wise to support Friday‘s inter-Korean summit, and “instead of seizing the stage” in a one-on-one talk with Kim, convene summit meetings between the US, China, South Korea and North Korea, and later possibly Russia.

Although the North Korean leader has made revelatory announcements in the direction of denuclearization, his specific proposals are all easily reversible and premised on accepting the regime as a nuclear weapons state, he argued.

“These are proposals of a country that wants arms controls negotiations with the US as a fellow nuclear weapons state. In fact they have said that for the last 20 years,” Green said. “So I am quite pessimistic that we will see concrete denuclearization steps from the coming two summits. In other words, we have lowered the tensions but not made any progress on reducing the threat, which continues to grow.”

Green proposed implementing “step-by-step confidence building measures” instead of negotiating a peace treaty, a long cherished goal for Pyongyang.

Crucially, the scholar recommended revisiting and following through the North-South Basic Agreement forged in 1991, which includes confidence-building measures and other mechanisms for reducing tensions. The pact aimed to promote reconciliation and nonaggression between the two Koreas through joint commissions on inter-Korean economic exchanges and cooperation, cultural and social exchanges, reconciliation and military affairs.

On the possibility of a military strike by the US on North Korea should the Trump-Kim summit falter, Green opined that it was unlikely.

“I don’t think personally Trump will attack North Korea. The effect might be to traumatize South Korea and Japan, which is exactly the opposite of what our strategy should be,” the academic said. “Our strategy should be showing solidarity with our allies rather than scaring them. The right attitude for Washington should be to show confidence in our deterrence capabilities and alliances.”

He added, “My prediction is that the Trump-Kim summit will not bring about concrete results, but Trump will not say it was a failure. I don’t think he will come out of the summit and say, ‘I failed, so we now have to consider a military strike.’”

As a result, the “vaguely positive dynamic will continue for a while” in the Korean Peninsula, Green forecast. “At least there is no tension and we are not talking about war.”

By Joel Lee (