Here is my most pessimistic assessment of what comes next. I, of course, want to be wrong and if people who have influence can make sure this does not happen I will be very happy to be chastised for having Moriarty’s “negative waves.”
I think the post-summit scenario looks like this:
- The Republic of Korea and North Korea are going to work for a peace declaration. They will eventually have a peace treaty because after all this was/is a Korean civil war and the north was the attacker and the north and South were the belligerents. This will require a change to both country’s constitutions to formally recognize the existence of the other country since both claim the entire peninsula and the entire population. They are then going to embark on the confederal reunification process that both Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong Un desire. (This is, of course, very dangerous for the ROK and the Korean people).
- Trump’s suspension of the exercises is meant to drive Kim to take substantive action. He is making a major concession to “test” Kim. Either Kim is going to live up to the agreements or we are back to 2017.
- Kim will probably destroy the missile test facility or make another symbolic gesture. But remember, they have developed road-mobile ICBMs; we just do not know if they have been able to develop a warhead for them.
- Maximum pressure is essentially over as China, Russia, and the ROK all want to begin economic engagement
- Trump will eventually get some kind of deal that eliminates the ICBM capability and reduces (but does not eliminate the nuclear program). This will be sufficient for Trump to say there is no more threat to the homeland so that he can execute his actual desired plan which he expressed in his press conference at the summit: to remove U.S. troops from the Korean peninsula.
The irony is that Xi, Kim, Moon, and Trump all have the same desire: to get U.S. forces off the peninsula. That is the only “win-win-win-win” scenario although it will actually be a loss for the ROK/U.S. alliance and will likely lead to some level of conflict.
David S. Maxwell is a retired U.S.Army Special Forces Colonel with five tours in Korea and is currently an independent national security consultant focusing on Korean security issues and unconventional and political warfare.