After his hastily arranged photo op with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un at the DMA, the Trump administration detailed a plan being negotiated between the two countries that would do…nothing. The deal would allow North Korea to keep all the nukes they have but not build any new ones.
The concept would amount to a nuclear freeze, one that essentially enshrines the status quo, and tacitly accepts the North as a nuclear power, something administration officials have often said they would never stand for…
It falls far short of Mr. Trump’s initial vow 30 months ago to solve the North Korea nuclear problem, but it might provide him with a retort to campaign-season critics who say the North Korean dictator has been playing the American president brilliantly by giving him the visuals he craves while holding back on real concessions.
Sign up for The Interpreter
While the approach could stop that arsenal from growing, it would not, at least in the near future, dismantle any existing weapons, variously estimated at 20 to 60. Nor would it limit the North’s missile capability.
But remember when he took office? He created a huge crisis, saying that North Korea possessing nuclear weapons was an existential threat to the United States and we were on the verge of going to war with them (we weren’t, of course; there wasn’t even a hint of a whisper that we had the slightest inclination to launch a war with North Korea). But now he’s ready to sign a deal that would leave the status quo in place — the status quo in which war with that country was imminent and they were ready to fire their missiles at us at any minute.
In fact, Trump rejected the same deal two years ago on Rex Tillerson’s first trip to Seoul to negotiate. That deal was a bad one, Tillerson said, because it would “leave North Korea with significant capabilities that would represent a true threat, not just to the region, but to American forces, as well.” So a deal that was unacceptable in 2017 is now a huge victory.
And put no stock in the claim that this changes things by forbidding the development of new nuclear weapons. This deal is virtually identical to one negotiated previously by Bill Clinton. It took Kim five years to void the agreement.
In fact, this approach has been attempted before: It bears strong similarities to the nuclear freeze President Bill Clinton negotiated with Mr. Kim’s father in 1994. But that was a dozen years before the North’s first nuclear test, and before it possessed either nuclear weapons or the capability to deliver them.
Mr. Clinton’s deal held for five or six years, until it became obvious the North was cheating by seeking a new approach to the bomb — uranium enrichment. The North broke out of it in 2003. George W. Bush negotiated a partial freeze at Yongbyon in 2007; it too fell apart.
The approach raises the larger question of whether Mr. Trump really cares about striking a tough denuclearization deal, or whether, as many critics charge, he is mainly interested in the illusion of progress to present himself to voters as a peacemaker.
My money’s on the latter. This is classic Trump: Declare a crisis,strike a deal that changes virtually nothing and declare the crisis averted. You’re welcome, America. I, Donald Trump, have single-handedly saved the country from the impending catastrophe that I invented. It’s what he did with the trade deal with Mexico and Canada. He’s in the process of doing it with immigration. Now he’s done it with North Korea.