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The YUUUUUGE Summit

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So the apparent quick takeaways:

  • US and DPRK release joint communique that commits both to vague “denuclearization.”
  • US agrees to suspend military exercises, apparently without informing the ROK military (although it’s possible that Moon was informed)
  • Trump complains about cost of US troops deployed in ROK, and of strategic bomber flights near Korean Peninsula

In short, it looks as if the DPRK achieved its core goals (high profile meeting, end of wargames) at the cost of suspension of nuclear and (I presume) ballistic missile tests. The former isn’t really a cost (DPRK probably has enough data to continue qualitative and quantitative improvements in its arsenal), although the latter is; it’s hard to improve ballistic missile reliability without extensive testing. Everything can start up again if either side wants. US gets vague promise of denuclearization (the definition of which the DPRK and the US don’t seem to agree on) that Trump gets to trumpet.

So yeah; the DPRK gets most of what it wants. On the upside, Northeast Asia is probably a little bit safer, although the sense of tension that pervaded last year was mostly (but not entirely) a result of Trump’s own rhetoric. The nuclear non-proliferation regime takes a bit of a hit. Trump gets to oversell a “victory” that is largely a concession to the reality that North Korea has nukes and the systems to deliver them, and that North Korea will continue to exist. The end of exercises is an unnecessary concession that could, nevertheless, lead to additional confidence-building measures down the road. Big question is how the sanctions regime will hold together.  My guess is “not so well,” given that China’s acquiescence came largely as a result of pressure over the past two decades, pressure that now seems quite likely to relent.

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