Editor’s Note: David A. Andelman, visiting scholar at the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School and director of its Red Lines Project, is a contributor to CNN where his columns won the 2017 Deadline Club Award for Best Opinion Writing. Follow him on Twitter @DavidAndelman. The views expressed in this commentary are his own.
Well, there goes the Nobel Peace Prize. But could President Trump ever have seen himself sharing such an honor with anyone else? Or, for that matter, could he be seen as sharing a global spotlight with someone he’d not so long ago been calling Little Rocket Man?
We also need to look at the bizarre events of the last few months from the other end of the telescope.
Could Kim Jong Un ever have trusted the likes of Trump to guarantee his safety, his survival, his continued rule as a power-hungry dictator without a single nuclear sidearm, let alone a full-on arsenal? Hardly likely.
After all, would Kim really have faced down the leader who, confronted with the most urgent pleas from all of his most loyal allies abroad, was prepared to withdraw from another nuclear pact – with Iran – that was in fact guaranteeing exactly what Trump wanted from Kim? Zero nukes for a very long time. Not likely.
Their message was a simple one, and indeed as it turned out, quite prescient: That his act of summarily withdrawing from the Iran agreement could poison the well of a truce with North Korea and the elimination of its nuclear deterrent.
The timing of Trump’s announcement on Thursday, unilaterally putting a stake through the heart of his long-sought summit, was hardly unexpected.
Just hours earlier, the North Korean leader had welcomed the world press to witness the destruction of the deep tunnels where he’d set off the atomic and hydrogen bombs that so inflamed Trump’s passion.
Suddenly, Kim was showing that he was the big man, capable of the grand, theatrical gesture. Television teams from around the world, admitted to one of the most isolated and carefully guarded locations in the world’s most secretive nation, carefully positioned for a truly dramatic act.
If that doesn’t sound like a scenario ready for prime-time television, what does? How do you spell one-upmanship?
There’s nothing facile, even easy, about nuclear diplomacy. It’s the diplomatic equivalent of three-dimensional chess. But both Trump and Kim have long seemed to be laboring over a game of checkers.
At the same time, Trump was doing little to smooth the path to the summit for an individual like Kim for whom paranoia is built into the DNA of his entire family.
“We will guarantee his safety. He will be safe, he will be happy, his country will be rich,” Trump pledged earlier this week with the president of South Korea sitting by his side in the Oval Office.
But guarantee his safety where? In a forced exile in Singapore or Mongolia – another spot that was at one point under consideration before Singapore was finally selected as the venue for the summit?
Neither is a very appealing prospect to an absolute dictator accustomed to having everyone tremble at his beck and call.
When it comes down to the now apparently demolished Kim-Trump summit, it’s clear that it’s all but impossible to play on a level playing field with a weapons-grade egomaniac. Moreover, when each of two individuals has the ability to rain down nuclear horror on the other, and when at least one is just a bit mad, then the odds multiply many times.
No, we should hardly be surprised. What the world must now be holding its breath over is just how many other test tunnels, how many storage sites for missiles and weapons is Kim Jong Un harboring that no inspector will now be able to identify.
Perhaps Trump has acted as impulsively and ill-advisedly in pulling out of this summit as he did when he surprised the world by accepting Kim’s invitation without considering where it all might end up.
We can only hope that neither side makes an impulsive move to demonstrate that his nuclear button is bigger than the other’s.