We have a dramatic relaxation of tensions between the United States and North Korea. That is an unambiguously good thing. The summit yesterday was basically a photo op. I expected little and there was even less than I’d expected. The diplomatic communique was basically diplo-speak for “be excellent to each other” — a non-binding agreement to work towards “denuclearization” — while accepting that both sides define the term in dramatically different ways.
North Korea has made immense sacrifices to achieve a viable nuclear deterrent. Yesterday’s summit was more than anything else a testament to the power of that achievement.
There are various negatives we can find to what happened. Trump got nothing. Indeed, what North Korea agreed to here is much less than it has agreed to in other North Korea-United States engagements and agreements over the last 25 years. Getting nothing, he’s already calling for an end to US-South Korea military exercises. He has also given the North Koreans a major diplomatic victory, appearing in a major international summit on equal terms with the United States. President Trump is showering Kim with praise. Make no mistake: We are more on the road to accepting North Korea as a nuclear weapons state than making any realistic progress to eliminating those weapons.
With all that said though, these arguable downsides are easy to overstate. Military exercises can be held or not held when the US and South Korea want. At least to date, President Trump has made no move to reduce the US military commitment to the region. “Conferring legitimacy” is a thing but a generally overrated thing. It’s best to say we gave little and got little. But the chances of a military confrontation are much lower than they were at the end of last year. President Trump will try to leverage this as a foreign accomplishment to parade in the 2018 midterms.