Stephan Haggard on the US–North Korea Summit



While on pause, we are posting commentary that Marc Noland and Steph Haggard are writing on the peninsula. The latest edition is an analysis by Stephan Haggard of the proposed summit between the United States and North Korea.

The decision on steel and aluminum tariffs and the decision to meet Kim Jong-un reflect a similar White House decision-making style: take action first and plan later. Despite all of the doubts cast on the proposal, however, the Korea decision has potential. That potential resides entirely, however, in engineering a transition to negotiations; that is the only outcome of a summit that would be meaningful.

How such negotiations are structured is key, however. If they go back to the idea of "commitment for commitment, action for action" contained in the 2005 Joint Statement, North Korea wins; we will get caught up in never-ending process. The alternative is to put a "big deal" on the table, but insist that the key quid-pro-quos—like sanctions relief—will only be granted when commitments are not just made but actually implemented. Ironically, such a strategy is in line with the much-maligned Iran deal.

For those interested in the logic underlying these concerns, the first chapter of Hard Target: Sanctions, Inducements and the Case of North Korea spells them out in detail.

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