Trump Claims An End To North Korean Nuclear Threat, Reality Is Quite Different

President Trump is touting his Photo Op Summit as the end of the North Korean nuclear threat. Reality is quite different.

Less than an hour after arriving back in the United States after a day-long trip home from the Singapore Photo Op Summit, President Trump took to Twitter to proclaim the end of the “nuclear threat” from North Korea:

WASHINGTON — President Trump returned to the United States early on Wednesday praising his diplomatic prowess after his meeting with the North Korean leader and declaring, “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat” from Pyongyang.

In a series of Twitter posts at dawn, the president projected confidence as Air Force One landed outside Washington. After his summit meeting with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, in Singapore, Mr. Trump appeared to be taking a victory lap even as critics cautioned that the nuclear threat from North Korea is far from over.

But questions remained about whether the United States gave up more than it gained what had been a much-anticipated meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim.

North Korea state media reported on Wednesday that Mr. Kim won major concessions from the American president, including an agreement by Mr. Trump to a phased, “step-by-step” denuclearization process for the North, rather than the immediate dismantling of its nuclear capability.

American hard-liners like John R. Bolton, now Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, have opposed that approach. In the past, Mr. Bolton had argued that the North must quickly dismantle and ship out its nuclear weapons program in its entirety, as Libya did more than a decade ago.

The official Korean Central News Agency also reported that Mr. Trump promised to eventually lift sanctions against the North and cease military exercises with South Korea.

In one tweet on Wednesday, Mr. Trump pushed back against criticism that he had handed a victory to Mr. Kim by promising to end those exercises, which he described as “war games.”

joint statement signed by the two leaders did not include a timeline for denuclearization or details about how the North would move forward. Instead, the document — which many had hoped would be a road map for a nuclear agreement — was filled with diplomatic language that had been used in previous statements over the past 20 years.

Here are Trump’s tweets from this morning with regard to North Korea:

Contrary to Trump’s claims that he made major breakthroughs, Daniel Drezner points out the reality of the situation:

Over the long run, Singapore changed none of the fundamentals of the situation. North Korea still has a track record of agreeing to things and then reneging on its agreements. So, for that matter, does Donald Trump. It seems extremely unlikely that a regime that believes its security is intertwined with its nuclear capabilities will surrender them. It seems even more unlikely that hawks such as national security adviser John Bolton are going to roll over and not try to provoke Pyongyang again. Most important, there is no evidence that the fundamental policy preferences of the key actors (North Korea, China, the United States) have changed on this issue.

That said, the primary reason the long-term odds have not changed is because those odds were not as high as everyone thought six months ago (myself included). Back in January, Michael Horowitz and Elizabeth Saunders concluded that structural factors (capabilities, geography) limit the likelihood of actual armed conflict. None of those factors have changed after the summit either.

The Singapore summit produced great theatrics. Beyond that, everything that was said in Singapore could be easily revocable. So embrace the season of conciliatory rhetoric between president Trump and Kim Jong Un. Just realize that even if the rhetoric begins to curdle, the fundamental situation will not have changed all that much.

This goes along with what I said yesterday in the immediate aftermath of the summit. Notwithstanding the glowing rhetoric from the President, members of his Administration, and his supporters in the media and the Republican Party, there is quite honestly very little substance to what was agreed to by the two leaders, and much doubt lies ahead regarding whether or not we’ll actually see anything substantive. The primary reason for that, of course, lies in the fact that, as I’ve said before, the United States and North Korea have very different ideas of what ‘denuclearization’ means and there is nothing that came out of the meeting on Tuesday to indicate that the two sides are any closer to an agreement on that issue than they were before the summit began. Additionally, it’s worth noting that the North Koreans have agreed to “denuclearize” many times before, most notably in 1985, 1992, 1994, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2016. Each of these pledges was either a lie or proved to be entirely fruitless. Only someone who is incredibly naive would believe without evidence, as the President is asking the rest of us to do, that this time is any different. Perhaps this time will be different, but it’s going to take a lot more than smiles and mutual praise to change that.

Furthermore, as Drezner points out, Trump’s argument that the fundamental situation on the ground has changed significantly is quite simply nonsensical. Notwithstanding the heated rhetoric that we saw last year, the odds that there was ever going to be a shooting war on the North Korean peninsula were never as strong as some segments of the media and the Trump Administration made them out to be. The main reason for this, of course, is because the North Koreans have always been at least smart enough to realize that any effort on their part to reignite conflict with their neighbor to the south or the United States would lead to their ultimate destruction. No doubt, they could take a lot of South Korean civilians, and members of the American and South Korean military, down with them, but in the end, they and their Juche paradise would be destroyed. Similarly, notwithstanding President Trump’s rhetoric, it was equally clear that the United States is highly unlikely to launch a first strike against the north quite simply because it would likely trigger an overwhelming response from the DPRK that, while doomed to fail, would have the same disastrous impact on South Korea that a North Korean first strike would. None of that has changed as a result of the summit.

Moreover, as many people have noted in the day that has passed since the summit ended, nothing in the statement that President Trump and Kim Jung Un comes even close to dealing with the threat posed by North Korea’s conventional forces, the vast majority of which are based just inside the Demilitarized Zone within less than an hour’s time from one of the most populated cities in the world. The agreement reached in Singapore doesn’t speak to that issue at all and notwithstanding that fact President Trump handed the North Koreans a gift in the form of the apparent indefinite cancelation of military exercises between American and South Korean troops, exercises that were meant to be a part of the preparedness for the threat posed by a potential conventional attack from the north. That threat remains, of course, even though it’s unlikely to be carried out, and the President has handed the North a significant gift without getting anything significant in return. To the extent that North Korea was a danger prior to the Singapore Summit, and the immediacy of that threat was largely overstated in recent years, nothing about that has changed in the last forty-eight hours regardless of what the President claims.





FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, National Security, North Korea, Politicians, US Politics, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. grumpy realist says:

    Munich Agreement, Round II?

    Who was it who said that history always repeats itself, once as tragedy, the next time as farce?

  2. mattbernius says:

    If past history is any indication, this could become the “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor” or “Mission Accomplished” quote for this administration.

    That said, past history also suggests that those just don’t stick to Trump in the same way.

  3. Michael Reynolds says:

    1) Overhype the NK nuke threat…
    2) … throw scat around your cage.
    3) Hold a photo op summit at which you…
    4) …give Kim everything he wants and more…
    5) …in exchange for the same empty promises we’ve heard before and…
    6) …used to get for free…
    7)…and declare victory!

    And the Trumpaloons all cry, Yay!

  4. grumpy realist says:

    Lordy lordy lordy….

    (I can’t figure out whether this is just a case of despairing hope that someone behind the Orange Orangutan might actually want to try for a real treaty, or pure naivety. Trump is a circus clown pretending to be a diplomat. As long as there’s a photo taken he claims the occasion a success.)

    Has anyone noticed that the Russians have come out with an article worrying about the easiness of the Norks manipulating Trump? Putin must feel like he’s got his Chaos Generator up and going–but it’s starting to affect everyone, including himself.

  5. reid says:

    The propaganda is completely out of control and disturbingly effective with so many people.

  6. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Iran has no nukes, and is adhering to the rigorous agreement laid out in the JCPOA…but poses an existential threat to the world.
    NoKo has nukes, and there is no process laid out to denuclearize them, or to keep them from making more. Yet they are no longer a threat. Because a clown with a bad comb-over and a fake tan says so.
    Half of the electorate believes this nonsense.

  7. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Dennison got the idea to not participate in the joint military exercise (what cadet bone-spurs calls war games) from his boss, V. Putin.

  8. Mikey says:

    A reporter asked Pompeo about verification. Part of the exchange went like this:

    Reporter: “The president said it will be verified.”

    Pompeo: “Of course it will.”

    Q: “Can you tell us a little bit more about–what is, what discussed about how?”

    Pompeo: “Just so you know, you could ask me this, I find that question insulting & ridiculous & frankly ludicrous.”

    Of course he answered with that because they have no fucking idea, because there is no “how,” and because Trump gave away the store in exchange for nothing.

  9. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    also…Mr. Greatest Economy in History is presiding over the highest rate of inflation in six years…effectively wiping out any wage gains.

  10. CSK says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Some of us have known for years–decades–that Trump can be jerked around like a hooked trout. So do the Russians. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to them that Kim so easily manipulated Trump.

  11. Moosebreath says:

    I think this is more serious. The “I am the only one who can save you” line is straight out of Authoritarianism 101.

  12. Kathy says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Who was it who said that history always repeats itself, once as tragedy, the next time as farce?

    Karl Marx (don’t worry; saying his name is harmless). He said it in reference to Napoleon III, who was the Farce to the first Napoleon’s Tragedy. He had a point, but I don’t think the Franco-Prussian War qualified as farce.

    Trump has to overhype everything he does, we know this. I wonder if he knows the story of the boy who cried “wolf.” The point of the story is that everything becomes dull with repetition. El Cheeto became dull in his superlatives before he got elected.

    But just to make it clear to his cult: a photo op in Singapore did not end Kim’s nuclear program, or whatever threat it represents.

  13. CSK says:

    Here’s what Trump had to say, via CNN, on the subject of whether he assessed Kim incorrectly:

    “I may be wrong. I mean, I may stand before you in six months and say, ‘Hey, I was wrong.’ I don’t know that I’ll ever admit that, but I’ll find some kind of excuse.”

    And the Trumpkins will swallow it hook, line, and sinker.

  14. Lynn says:

    “We save a fortune by not doing war games”

    I know! Let’s have a parade with all the money we saved.

  15. teve tory says:

    “I may be wrong. I mean, I may stand before you in six months and say, ‘Hey, I was wrong.’ I don’t know that I’ll ever admit that, but I’ll find some kind of excuse.”

    When I heard that this morning I actually had to verify it because I couldn’t believe he was, briefly, so honest.

  16. CSK says:

    @teve tory:

    Where will he place the blame? Pompeo? Bolton? Obama? Remember that Trump was the guy who said he’d know in a minute if he could trust Kim, and that he didn’t need to prepare for this “summit,” because his gut never fails him.

  17. PJ says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Munich Agreement, Round II?

    This isn’t the Munich Agreement, Round II.

    1. Kim Jong-un isn’t Adolf Hitler, and North Korea, while it has a couple of nukes, isn’t as powerful as Nazi Germany was. This was a meeting between the leader of the world’s only super-power and, without the nukes, a crazy dictator.
    2. The Munich Agreement gave the UK, which was not ready, more time to prepare for war.

    Unless you’re arguing that Trump is Hitler, and Kim is Chamberlain…

  18. Kathy says:

    BTW, while North Korea has been a thorn in Asia for decades, it hardly has been the driver of US foreign policy in the region. As Mr. Reynolds reminds us frequently, that’s China. So, yeah, the photo op meeting in big, but not that big.

    What was that big, for example, was the signing of the Oslo Accords in the 90s, which brought Peres and Arafat together along with a rather substantial, and consequential, treaty.

    Bigger still was Reagan’s trip to Moscow.

    In both the latter cases you had enemies that had been at each other’s throat, and fought several wars directly or against proxies, on and off for decades.

    So let’s not get too excited about a meet and greet with little substance. Words are playthings of the winds, after all. And North Korea’s promises, if I may borrow a phrase, might as well be written on water for all the consequences they bring.

    Maybe something positive will come off this, maybe not. But right now El Cheeto is acting as though he’s won the grand prize at the state fair, when all he’s done is gone to the store to buy seeds.

  19. grumpy realist says:

    @PJ: Oh, I agree that the equivalence doesn’t hold up very well, but it’s hard to think of another point of history where one of the negotiating parties demonstrated so much gullibility in the face of all conflicting evidence.

    But what do I know? Maybe the horse will indeed sing.

  20. An Interested Party says:

    For anything that the Orange Toddler claims, reality is quite different…

  21. Pylon says:

    @grumpy realist:

    it’s hard to think of another point of history where one of the negotiating parties demonstrated so much gullibility in the face of all conflicting evidence.

    Unless you think of the last election as a negotiation and Republican voters as one of the negotiating parties.

  22. grumpy realist says:

    An analysis of how in exchange for a photo op, Trump gave away the store.

    I think down the pipeline historians will look back and point out this as the point at which Pax American stepped off the stage and Pax Sinica took its place.

    It’s also a good example of how a superior economy can totally shoot itself in the foot due to the stupidity of its inhabitants.

  23. Daryl says:

    Michael Cohen sent Kim Jong Un $130,000 today.
    Because Dennison got fvcked in Singapore…

  24. CSK says:

    When Bret Baier reminded Trump last night that Kim butchered his own people, Trump shrugged it off the way he shrugged off the point that Putin murdered his fellow Russians: “Hey, everybody does it.” And he marveled that Kim could become a dictator at the tender age of 27.

    Hey, stupid: Kim inherited his dictatorship, just the way you did your old man’s money.