CONTENT PREVIEW
Country Risk

US-North Korean summit likely to be followed by prolonged diplomatic talks, reducing likelihood of conflict

12 June 2018
A television news screen at a train station in Seoul showing US President Donald Trump (centre) and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un (right) on 11 June. Source: Jung Yeon-je/AFP/Getty Images

Key Points

  • Although summit meetings between potential enemies are generally a positive indicator for war risks, they are largely symbolic and do not necessarily point to a shift in the conflicting motivations and strategic interests of the countries involved.
  • North Korea will probably agree to some non-binding reference to the aspiration of denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula, as happened with the 27 April North Korea-South Korea summit joint statement.
  • However, North Korea will probably be unwilling to “denuclearise” as defined by the United States and its allies, either in any joint statement or in subsequent official-level talks.
  • The more valid indicator of an otherwise symbolic meeting’s effect on war risks will be the extent of progress towards a peace treaty, made in more detailed working-level talks, as well as the maintenance and enhancement of communication channels between China, North Korea, South Korea, and the United States.

Event

US President Donald Trump and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un are scheduled on 12 June in Singapore to hold the first summit between a sitting US president and a North Korean leader.

Despite the White House releasing on 24 May a letter from US President Donald Trump to North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un stating that Trump was withdrawing from the summit, preparatory talks resumed and Trump and Kim arrived in Singapore on 10 June. Summits are positive indicators for war risks but are largely symbolic in that they do not necessarily point to a shift in motivations and interests and are unlikely to involve the concrete and actionable measures that are decided in working-level meetings. Trump is probably keen to have a successful summit after disagreements at the G7 summit and before the November mid-term elections in the United States. Kim most probably seeks the perceived legitimacy as a leader from meeting a sitting US president and potentially discussing a peace treaty.

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