Changing the intentions the U.S. and North Korea have towards each other in the long run is more important than possession of nuclear weapons themselves, argues Graham Fuller.
By Graham E. Fuller
The fascinating, elaborately choreographed diplomatic pas de deux in Singapore between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un mesmerized the world over two days. Most pundits look at the (perhaps more than) half empty glass of water on the table. Indeed, most Democrats and all Trump-haters refuse to grant the summit any worth lest it lend strength to Trump’s political power. The high priests of denuclearization (an admittedly arcane discipline) are parsing the agreement; so far they have found very little of nuclear substance.
Yet instant gratification in the quest for immediate and complete denuclearization of North Korea is highly unrealistic given the dark layers of past conflict. Worse, evaluating the summit by the degree of denuclearization achieved is truly naive in geopolitical terms. This step taken at the summit, like it or not, is just that, a first but very significant step along a long and important road. This first step indeed may never be succeeded by a second—but the chances are good that it will. How it will all come out in the end is anybody’s guess.
Yet the calming of the rabid language and ferocity of threats between the U.S. and North Korea over decades must be considered a major accomplishment in itself. It was not necessarily destined to happen at all. You don’t reach settlements against a backdrop of escalating rage. The emergence of a new civility and the de-demonization of the other party is an vital prerequisite for any further progress. Without it you have nothing.
And there is a yet more important strategic point about nuclear weapons that many critics miss. In the end, it is the nature and intentions of those who possess nuclear weapons that matter, often much more than the mere possession of them. The British and the French could both blow the U.S. out of the water tomorrow with their nuclear arsenals. Yet we don’t lose sleep over it. Why not? Because we have some reasonable confidence that the intentions of the British…