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Chatham House Experts on the Singapore Summit

Dr Leslie Vinjamuri, Head, US and the Americas Programme; Dean, Queen Elizabeth II Academy


"Even those most sceptical of President Trump’s foreign policy have given him some credit for persuading China to take sanctions more seriously and getting North Korea to actively engage on the question of denuclearisation.   But agreeing to meet with the leader of North Korea absent a clear negotiating strategy is short-sighted and removes a key bargaining chip (a meeting with the US President) without requiring anything in exchange.  Expert opinion remains skeptical that North Korea will give up its nuclear weapons programme, but the Trump administration does not appear to have a Plan B, one that takes seriously a strategy of deterrence and containment."      


Dr John Nilsson-Wright, Senior Research Fellow, Asia-Pacific Programme


"For key US allies in East Asia, the Trump-Kim summit raises critical questions about the strength and reliability of the US as a senior partner, and specifically the concern that Trump’s impulsive and inconsistent decision-making pattern may be problematic. Close working level coordination between US, Japanese and ROK cabinet level officials in recent weeks has helped offset some of these concerns, but as Abe’s June 7 visit to Washington highlights, trust is still in limited supply. 

Any deal arising from the summit must not only begin in a credible manner to address the primary concern of denuclearization but also local concerns such as the threat from medium-range missiles, chemical and biological weapons, North Korea’s armed forces, and humanitarian concerns (primarily the fate of Japan’s abductees) all without undermining the core strategic understandings that underpin America’s two bilateral alliances. With North Korea apparently thinking long-term, the worry that the US may be motivated more by short-term immediate political gains ahead of the November mid-terms, is amplifying anxiety in professional circles both in Japan and South Korea."

Dr Patricia Lewis, Research Director, International Security


"The hopes for the summit are not new. In 1992, North Korea signed the Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. In 1993, the US gave assurances that it would not threaten and use force, including the use of nuclear weapons, nor interfere with North Korea’s internal affairs. In 1994, North Korea undertook to freeze and eventually eliminate its nuclear facilities in exchange for economic and diplomatic relations with the US. However, in 2003, North Korea announced its immediate withdrawal from the NPT, restarted its nuclear reactor, reprocessed the plutonium and rebooted its missile testing programme, and in 2006 conducted the first of six nuclear warhead tests.


The attempts to prevent a nuclear-armed North Korea is a history of repeated attempts, broken promises and dashed hopes. The motivation behind the Kim Jong-un’s desire for a summit and the pre-summit announcements indicating a willingness to abolish North Korea’s advanced nuclear weapons capability are unclear.  It is possible that – this time – Kim Jong-un will prove to be a different kind of leader and it is also possible that – this time – the promises to disarm will result in a more secure Korean peninsula but it would be wise to remember the history and build in balanced expectations for the summit and checks on commitments going forward."


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