Voices from the Field

Commentary & Opinions

2019.2: Sergei O. Kurbanov, "The Trump-Kim Summit: A Win-Win Lottery or Step Forward?"

On February 27-28, 2019, a second summit between the U.S. President Donald Trump and DPRK Chairman Kim Jong-un is scheduled. All are waiting to see what this meeting will bring to the United States, South and North Korea, and the world. According to reports on a series of meetings between American and North Korean officials in Stockholm, Washington, and Pyongyang, something serious is being prepared. But what?

To begin with, for the leaders of the two states, the Hanoi summit is like a win-win lottery. If the meeting takes place, then however it ends, it will bring political dividends to both Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un.

For Kim Jong-un, the upcoming meeting is “a demonstration of the greatness of the leader,” to which even the president of the “strongest power of the world” listens and who agrees to meet him to fly to Vietnam – a socialist country!

For Donald Trump, the upcoming summit is a demonstration that the President of the United States can "force the dictator one of the most recalcitrant and unpredictable countries in the world to listen and negotiate.”

But the world will not be satisfied only with the personal achievements of these two leaders.

If only technical staff accompany Trump and Kim to Hanoi, then significant progress should not be expected. At their June 2018 summit in Singapore, fundamental agreements were reached, but not all of these have been implemented, particularly a U.S. guarantee of the continued existence and security of the North Korean regime.

On the other hand, if the two leaders bring along delegations to conduct practical negotiations aimed at signed working agreements, then significant progress can be expected. For North Korea, establishing relations with the United States and gaining security guarantees are more important than the lifting of sanctions.

But the paradox is that the United States alone cannot provide such guarantees. North Korean officials simply do not believe the words of American leaders, or believe that the Americans will follow through on any signed agreements. The only effective guarantor of the DPRK’s security will be some kind of international structure, perhaps with a name such as, “The International Organization for Security Guarantees for North Korea” (IOSGNK). Such an organization would include countries that have good or at least neutral relations with both states, and at the same time have strong militaries. These may include, for example, Vietnam, France, Turkey, and possibly the PRC. The question of selecting countries for this organization is the most difficult and delicate matter. The headquarters of this organization could be located in Sweden, and its representative offices in the DPRK, the ROK, and the USA.

The main initial objectives should be to create an atmosphere of mutual trust between the DPRK and the United States, abandon the policy of mutual threats, and be open to authentic collaboration. With mutual understanding and desire, as they say, "the impossible can become possible."


Sergei O. Kurbanov is professor and chair of the Korean Studies Department at St. Petersburg University, Russia. Professor Kurbanov is the author of seven books and more than one hundred articles on Korean history and politics. Segei’s article on, “North Korea’s Juche Ideology: Indigenous Communism or Traditional Thought?” will appear in Critical Asian Studies 51:2 (June 2019), and is available online here. He can be reached at sokspb@inbox.ru.




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