The Real Results Of The Trump-Kim Summit – Freeze For Freeze

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via Moon of Alabama

The aftermath of the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore confirms my early take on the talks. What both sides committed to is the “freeze for freeze” agreement North Korea had offered since at least 2015. The U.S. stops its threatening maneuvers while North Korea stops missile and nuke testing. Both sides further committed to future talks about a peace treaty in exchange for some nuclear disarmament

Under pressure from hawks the Trump administration tries to spin additional Korean concessions into the summit declaration. It claims that North Korea committed to “verifiable and irreversible” steps. It is a bad move as that is not the case. Only the written words count. “[T]he DPRK commits to work towards the complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula” is the binding wording.

In 1970 the U.S. committed itself to its own complete nuclear disarmament in the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT):

Article VI – Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.

Both statements are aspirational. “To work towards” and to “undertake to pursue negotiations” are both intentionally vague and of equal determination.

The real point of the Singapore summit was the “freeze for freeze” the U.S. and North Korea both committed to it.

After North Korea successfully tested a thermonuclear device and an intercontinental range missile the U.S. was no longer able to go to war against it without risking the destruction of a major U.S. city. It had to negotiate towards some new truce with North Korea that would reduce the risk of a nuclear conflict. Freeze for freeze is the first step towards that.

North Korea had economic reasons for seeking nuclear weapons. The cost of constant military preparedness against a potential U.S. attack was killing its economy:

Each time the U.S. and South Korea launch their very large maneuvers, the North Korean conscription army (1.2 million strong) has to go into a high state of defense readiness. Large maneuvers are a classic starting point for military attacks. The U.S.-South Korean maneuvers are (intentionally) held during the planting (April/May) or harvesting (August) season for rice when North Korea needs each and every hand in its few arable areas.

Its nuclear deterrent allows North Korea to reduce its conventional military readiness especially during the all important agricultural seasons. Labor withheld from the fields and from elsewhere out of military necessity can go back to work. This is now the official North Korean policy known as ‘byungjin’.A guaranteed end of the yearly U.S. maneuvers would allow North Korea to lower its conventional defenses without relying on nukes. The link between the U.S. maneuvers and the nuclear deterrent North Korea is making in its repeated offer is a direct and logical connection.

Following this economic logic North Korea offered to freeze its nuclear development if the U.S. and South Korea freeze their large scale maneuvers. The Obama administration rejected the first offer in February 2015 and another one in April 2016. After that the Chinese government pushed the “freeze for freeze” concept. In early 2017 China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi explained:

To defuse the looming crisis on the peninsula, China proposes that, as a first step, the DPRK suspend its missile and nuclear activities in exchange for a halt of the large-scale US-ROK exercises. This suspension-for-suspension can help us break out of the security dilemma and bring the parties back to the negotiating table. Then we can follow the dual-track approach of denuclearizing the peninsula on the one hand and establishing a peace mechanism on the other. Only by addressing the parties’ concerns in a synchronized and reciprocal manner, can we find a fundamental solution to lasting peace and stability on the peninsula.

When the Chinese President visited Trump in April 2017 he explained the whole concept. Trump understood and spoke of “tremendous progress”. He had found a way to defuse the strategic problem of the North Korean bombs and missiles.

Secret negotiations were held with China and North Korea. In April Kim Jong-un froze all further testing. After some huffing and puffing the summit happened and the common declaration was signed. In his long press conference Trump explained the “freeze for freeze” parameters:

[T]he war games are very expensive, we pay for a big majority of them, we fly in bombers from Guam, …
I know a lot about airplanes, it’s very expensive. And I didn’t like it. And what I — what I did say is — and I think it’s very provocative, I have to tell you, Jennifer, it’s a very provocative situation. When I see that, and you have a country right next door, so under the circumstances that we are negotiating a very comprehensive, complete deal, I think it’s inappropriate to be having war games.

So we’re getting the remains back, secured the halt of all missile and nuclear tests for — how long has it been? Seven months? So you haven’t had a missile go up. For seven months, you haven’t had a nuclear test, you haven’t had a nuclear explosion.

.. they secured a halt of all missiles and of all nuclear tests, they secured the closure of their single primary nuclear test flight — test site …

There is the ‘freeze for freeze’ North Korea had offered and China promoted. The U.S. stops the large “strategic” maneuvers involving nuclear capable bombers flying from Guam, aircraft carriers and the like, while North Korea stops testing nukes and missiles. North Korea achieved its first aim. It can now lower its miliary posture and develop its economy.

The situation is still somewhat unstable as both freeze steps are reversible.

The ‘freeze for freeze’ is, as the Chinese Foreign Minister envisioned, a starting point for a long series of talks which may finally lead to a peace agreement and some nuclear disarmament. Now comes the “dual-track approach” of a peace agreement in exchange for some disarmament “in a synchronized and reciprocal manner”. This will be a “step-by-step” process which will take years or even decades.

North Korea will stay under U.S. sanctions for now but the teeth of the “maximum pressure” sanctions have been broken. Other countries will be free to deal with North Korea. In his press conference Trump talked about that too:

In the meantime, the sanctions will remain in effect.

The sanctions will come off when we are sure that the nukes are no longer a factor.

President Xi of China, who has really closed up that border maybe a little less so over the last couple of months, but that’s okay.

… And I think over the last two months, the border is more open than it was when we first started, but that is what it is, …

Trump will keep the U.S. sanctions up but he is fine with China ignoring at least some of them. Trump no longer insists on “maximum pressure”. Russia will also ease on sanctions as will South Korea.

The summit was successful in that it created the basis for further talks. Trump was smarter than Obama. Obama’s rejection of the offered freeze allowed North Korea to complete its nuclear program. Obama could have prevented that. Trump agreed to the North Korean concept of “freeze for freeze”. There was no other sensible way out of the security dilemma. Many further talks will follow and, if things go well, peace will finally come to Korea and the nuclear weapons will “no longer be a factor”.

The summit was a good start. The Trump administration is doing itself no favor now in overselling it as the all encompassing deal.

South Korea’s President Moon is also very happy with the results. It helped him to crush the hawkish opposition in yesterday’s local and by-elections.

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