How Trump Got Outplayed on North Korea
Thursday morning’s letter from President Trump to Kim Jong-un, apparently ending their nuclear negotiation bromance, should come as no surprise. But by once again catching American allies off guard and publicly antagonizing North Korea, the administration has further undermined its own leverage.
Over the past year, the president has repeatedly underestimated the importance of making real trade-offs in diplomacy。 These choices appear to be anathema to his “go big or go home” style of deal-making。 The Trump administration has been eager to jettison the “weak,” “terrible” deals negotiated by previous presidents — including the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Paris climate agreement, and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran。 With North Korea, he was seeking something bigger and better, “a very special moment for World Peace。”
在过去一年里,总统屡屡低估在外交上做出真正妥协的复要性。这样的挑选似乎与他“要么做笔大的,要么回家”的交易风格不符。特朗普政府急不可耐地想要废弃前几任总统通过谈判达成的“软弱”、“糟糕”的协议,包括《跨太平洋伙伴关系协定》(Trans-Pacific Partnership)、巴黎气候协议,以及同伊朗达成的《联合全面行动计划》(Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran)。在朝鲜问题上,他在争取更大、更优秀的成果,“一个对世界和平而言非常特别的时刻。”
Instead, the United States may now walk away with nothing。
While it’s true that deals like the Iran nuclear agreement had inherent shortcomings, they also effectively advanced America’s national security. In fact, their limitations reflect a hard-nosed assessment of the risk of the alternatives, the broader geostrategic interests in play and the constraints on America’s leverage. In diplomacy, every deal is an imperfect deal. The question is, how imperfect? And at what cost? Unless you can produce a better alternative, tossing out a less-than-perfect agreement that does advance some concrete goals is an exercise in peril. “Repeal” is almost always simpler than “replace.”
There may still be time to avoid the all-or-nothing trap with North Korea. While it will not be easy to overcome the fallout of provoking a thin-skinned dictator, the United States might now have a chance to focus on a more credible strategy: a deal that constrains, even if it does not immediately eliminate, North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs without offering unacceptable concessions in return. Whether such a deal is possible depends on Mr. Trump’s ability to embrace the art of the imperfect deal.
Developing a stronger negotiating strategy requires acknowledging the obvious: The United States has less leverage than it thinks in this negotiation。 Over the last few months, the Trump administration has repeatedly insisted that near-term denuclearization is achievable。 This assessment flies in the face of North Korea’s pointed recent statements and long history to the contrary, and it contradicts a new Pentagon report that suggests Mr。 Kim views nuclear weapons as essential。 No amount of wishful thinking, or even the possibility of reduced American sanctions, will change this reality。
The Trump administration will also need to address the divisions among its partners in the region, where Mr. Trump’s inconsistency has weakened his hand in negotiations and allowed our Asian partners to more skillfully maneuver toward their own goals.
President Moon Jae-in of South Korea has repeatedly leveraged the art of flattery with Mr. Trump to ensure that South Korea’s vision of a sweeping peace deal remained on the table. Mr. Moon is likely to keep pursuing some kind of diplomatic play with or without Mr. Trump’s involvement.
韩国总统文在寅(Moon Jae -in)多次对特朗普使用奉承的技巧,为的是确保韩国设想的全面和平协议仍在计划中。不管有没有特朗普的参与,文在寅都可能连续摘用某种外交表演。
Not to be outdone, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan has visited Mr. Trump several times to ensure that the United States does not cut a narrow deal that puts Japan’s security at risk.
These divergent interests won’t be readily reconciled. Instead of ignoring these differences, the administration needs to find some common ground for a more unified negotiation. Otherwise, the other power centers in Asia may pursue side deals with North Korea that will be even worse for the United States.
Finally, a more viable strategy requires a clearer analysis of how important North Korea really is to American interests, and what the United States is willing to put on the table. Is the top priority dealing with the threat of intercontinental ballistic missiles, or reducing North Korea’s nuclear stockpile? Where is the United States willing to accept calculated risks? The Trump administration must answer these questions to ensure that the United States doesn’t give up too much — like suddenly reducing its military presence in Asia or weakening its alliances — without getting anything substantive in return from North Korea.
If the past six weeks of diplomatic speed-dating over North Korea have made one thing clear, it’s that all the other people at this dance have a clear strategy and are playing their limited hands to full effect. The Trump administration, meanwhile, has attitude, swagger, and now a breakup letter for the ages. What it doesn’t yet have is a viable strategy. Hopefully, Mr. Trump will seize this chance to find one.