Two years of Trump-Kim summit: Singapore, Hanoi and the road to nowhere
On the second anniversary of the Singapore Summit, the meeting between Trump-Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Son Gwon said, “never again will we provide the US chief executive with another package to be used for achievements without receiving any returns.”
The North Korean leadership regretted the meeting held with the US President and used the second anniversary of the meeting to pledge a possible remilitarisation of the DMZ. North Korea has accused the Trump administration of extracting political mileage out of the leaders’ meet.
Furthermore, the North Korean leadership, led by Kim Jong-un’s sister Kim Yo Jong, has warned the US that it should keep away from inter-Korean affairs if it wants the “easy holding of the upcoming Presidential election.” North Korea’s relations with the US remains in a deadlock, even as an election-oriented Trump administration that is having a confrontation with China remains distracted elsewhere.
What is the background?
First, hopes from Singapore to stalemate in Hanoi. After years of strategic jostling and exchange of barbs, the US-North Korea relations appeared on the cusp of change in the 2018 Singapore Summit, through the Trump-Kim Jong Un meet. The meeting had raised much hope with both countries’ promising to “join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula” and the DPRK committing to working towards “complete denuclearisation”. A second summit in Hanoi between Kim Jong Un and Trump ended in a stalemate after the two countries were unable to reach any agreement.
Second, a simultaneous steady decline in the inter-Korean relationship. For days leading up to the second anniversary of the Trump-Kim Singapore summit, relations between the DPRK and the ROK are on a downward spiral with North Korea announcing on 9 June that it “will completely cut off and shut down the liaison line between the authorities of the North and the South, which has been maintained through the North-South joint liaison office.” This culminated in hostile action by North Korea when it destroyed an inter-Korean liaison office. The building was located in the North Korean border town of Kaesong. The latest escalation between the two Koreas has been on the issue of anti-regime pamphlets being sent from across the border by defectors from North Korea who have taken refuge in South Korea.
What does it mean?
First, the future course of the US-North Korea relations is back to square one. After a dire warning from North Korea wherein it vowed to never again let the US use another package for [political] achievements without receiving any returns, any possible negotiation with Pyongyang stands constricted for the US. The pressure is likely to increase on South Korea in the coming days as North Korea interprets the diplomacy as “an empty promise.” The future of the US-DPRK dialogue is back to square one. With constricting space for the US for any possible negotiation, the pressure on South Korea is likely to increase in the coming days. It has been a long strategy for the DPRK regimes to threaten or attack the ROK to gain concessions from the US. The possibility for any concessions from the US to North Korea vis-a-vis sanctions or international trade remains remote despite pressure on South Korea. Trump administration remains engaged internally in an increasingly divisive politics as the US nears an election in November.
Second, the negotiating tactics of Trump are completely different from his predecessors. Even though the ROK is a non-NATO ally, Trump administration has not shied away from demanding concessions from South Korea for stationing its troops in Seoul. Trump administration has lessened external balancing with most of its allies, including South Korea. Such an outlook is likely to strengthen in an election year, a year that has ravaged the American economy due to increasing job losses due to the pandemic and has seen worst domestic unrest in over 50 years. South Korea should not count on the uncertain policy of Trump administration. This, among other things, does not portend better days for inter-Korea relations.
US-Germany relations tense, as Trump signals withdrawal of troops
The US President Donald Trump on15 June confirmed media reports on his orders to reduce the US troops in Germany. Earlier to this confirmation, the outgoing US ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, told the Bild newspaper in an interview on 10 June that Washington’s plan is because “Americans taxpayers are against paying too much for other countries’ security.
The US military is set to remove 9,500 troops while leaving only 25,000 troops in Germany. Currently, there are 34,674 US military personnel stationed in Germany, including 20,774 from the Army and 12,980 from the Air Force, according to a Pentagon deployment report. The US military infrastructure in Stuttgart, Germany, serves as key hub for securing several missions in Afghanistan and Iraq.
What is the background?
First, Trump faults Germany for less defence spending in NATO. The immediate trigger for the order is the failure of Germany to increase its defence spending by 2 per cent in the NATO, and this led Trump to call the long-time NATO ally “delinquent.” Even though most of the NATO countries have failed to reach the two per cent mark on defence spending agreed in 2014, Trump has singled out Germany for the default. Simultaneously the rationale behind the troop reduction in Germany and a potential redeployment in Poland is likely to aggravate Moscow. But the US troop withdrawal plans are the latest in the series of incidents that have soured the relations between Berlin and Washington.
Second, Germany’s overdependence on Russian energy. The withdrawal plan in collective aims to drive home a message that Berlin, on the one hand, aims to politically and strategically stay clear for Russian aggression and on the other hand remains steadily dependent on it for energy. This withdrawal order follows a bill in the US Senate to expand the sanctions on Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline that connects the energy route through the Black Sea.
Third, strained Trump-Merkel personal diplomacy. The withdrawal decision came just days after Trump’s most recent spat with Berlin, this one involving Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision not to attend an in-person meeting of the Group of 7 in the US this month and her continued resistance to inviting Russian President Vladimir Putin to join the Group.
What does it mean?
First, for Germany the withdrawal will serve as a scope to introspect on ways to mitigate its local economies dependent on the US military base and for the US, the order mark a culmination of one Trump’s presidential promises in 2016. The reduction in US troop numbers in Germany is not new as the numbers have been steadily falling since 2006. In 2018, the number of US troops stationed in Germany more than halved, from 72,400 to the current figure of around 34,000. Hence the withdrawal of troops is not so much a new trend as against the institutionalized and well-publicized order from Trump today. Germany should now prepare for a more long-term possibility: that one day all the US troops may be gone.
Second, along with Germany, Europe and especially the NATO alliance should warm up to the idea of a political absence of the US. Most of the European countries, along with Germany has viewed its relationship with the US through the NATO alliance deriving strength from an impending Russia threat. But this working relationship might have to be revamped as ‘Europe will have to take on more responsibility’ and this would also mean that many NATO countries like Germany would have to rethink its nuclear and arms policy away from the larger protection of NATO. As things stand now, France could emerge as the only choice in stepping up to the task of providing an alternate defence shield to NATO by integrating its relatively strong missile policy into the NATO defence planning.
Last, the withdrawal and the redeployment in Poland lacks strategic depth and doesn’t provide any economic rationale to “saving the American taxpayer’s money.” The Pentagon has been studying the possibility of redeploying the US troops in Europe for some time. The shift to Poland will take years, and a large amount of money, to turn into anywhere close to how Germany had maintained the US bases. Even if the goal is just to cut the costs of overseas deployments, this redeployment is going to be devoid of any financial benefit that Germany has provided, such as the 1 billion dollars per year in cash and in-kind payments.
Also in the news…
India-China standoff at the Galwan Valley
Tensions at the Galwan Valley increased this week, killing 20 army personnel and injuring more, on the Indian side. While the Chinese side also suffered casualties, the authorities refused to acknowledge the numbers. Talks were held at the Maj. Gen level in order to diffuse the tensions on the ground. The diplomatic channels involving the External Affairs ministers of both countries ensured that the issue would be handled in a responsible and appropriate manner. The tiff at the LAC and the killing of soldiers, has given rise to anti-China sentiment at the societal level. It is being expressed through social media, calling for boycotting the products manufactured in China.
Nepal’s Parliament approves of changing the political map of its border with India
The Upper House of Nepal passed the Constitutional Amendment Bill changing the political map of the country, in the backdrop of border disagreements with India. President Bidhya Devi Bhandari gave her assent to the bill. The new map includes the three disputed areas- Kalapani, Limpiyadhura and Lipulekh, claimed by both India and Nepal.
India elected as a Non-Permanent Member of the UN Security Council
The UN Security Council held elections on Wednesday, for five seats in the non-permanent category. India was elected to the UNSC, as a non-permanent member, with 184 of 192 valid votes. Ireland, Mexico and Norway were also elected for two years.
John Bolton’s book reveals the contours of Trump’s foreign policy
Former National Security Advisor John Bolton’s book- “The Room Where It Happened”, has created a debate surrounding the nature of Trump’s foreign policies, his relation with China and Xi Jinping. The book reveals that Trump sought latter’s help in winning the forthcoming elections in November. The Justice Department, however, has filed a lawsuit seeking to block the publication of the book.
SIPRI report says India and China are among the top military spenders in 2019
“Trends in World Military Expenditure, 2019”, notes that the US, China and India are the top three military spenders in 2019. They are followed by Russia and Saudi Arabia. The “SIPRI Yearbook 2020”, an annual publication, indicates that all the countries that possess nuclear weapons continue to modernize them, whereas India and China have increased their nuclear warheads. According to the study, both China and Pakistan continue to have more nuclear warheads than India.
Tensions flare-up in the Korean Peninsula after Liaison office bombing
North Korea demolished the Inter-Korean Liaison office located at the border this week. South Korea condemned the unprecedented incident and the Reunification Minister resigned in the backdrop of the growing tensions. Pyongyang warned the re-establishment of guard posts and redeployment of troops in the inter-Korean zones, effectively nullifying the inter-Korean military agreement of 2018. It also refused to receive any special envoys from South Korea, even after repeated requests from the latter.
NATO to probe French allegations on Turkey’s failure to inspect the Mediterranean
NATO issued a statement that it would probe France’s accusation that the Turkish Navy failed to respond to an allied call for inspecting the Mediterranean. The issue was raised by France during the meeting between NATO Defence Chiefs. A Turkish vessel was said to be illegally transporting arms to Libya and France was on a NATO mission investigating the incident.
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