National Security

The Road to Singapore

A year ago North Korean President Kim Jong Un was threatening the world with nuclear missiles.  Pacific countries were running civil defense drills not seen since the 1950s. But on Tuesday President Trump will meet Kim in Singapore to discuss the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. How did we get here, on the road to Singapore and a summit meeting, instead of preparing for nuclear war?

Presidential Resolve

The first answer is strong presidential leadership.  President Trump made it clear to the North Koreans – and to everyone else in the world – that no matter how anyone speaks, America carries a big stick. First, he showed resolve in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan.

He let military leaders set the rules of engagement.  His only instructions were to kill the bad guys. So we did in a matter of months what Obama wouldn’t allow the military to do for 6 years: destroy ISIS and bring the Taliban to heel.

Trump also used Syria to show Russian President Vladimir Putin that although he’s ready to talk about making peace, we are the strong party and Putin is the weak one.  When Putin’s mercenaries in Syria attacked American troops, we killed them – over 200 of them – in a single battle.  That showed Putin and the world that we are capable and willing.

Xi Jin Ping expected that North Korea would distract the American president, allowing China to continue its aggressive expansion in the South China Sea.  Maybe he thought that President Trump would bargain away navigation rights and territorial disputes in return for China’s bringing Kim to heel.  Instead, the U.S. Navy “showed presence” in the heart of the islands falsely claimed by China as their sovereign territory, throwing China off balance.  To further punctuate the message, President Trump threatened tariffs against Chinese goods, showing that we are confronting China on every issue that harms American interests.

The Nuclear Trap

Also on the road to Singapore, Trump explained very clearly to Kim that his nuclear weapons are no good without backing from China or Russia. I call it “the nuclear trap.” Kim thought nuclear weapons would give him security, but Trump showed him that if he attacks us, he’ll be killed.

If Kim uses nukes to start a war, the counterattack will annihilate him and his entire family.

A country with only a handful of nuclear weapons and no great power backing is like a person holding a gun that can’t pull the trigger. Holding that gun only makes him more likely to get shot. It becomes protection only when it is used.  But if Kim uses his weapons to start a war, the counterattack will annihilate him and his entire family.

Neither China nor Russia would join a nuclear war that Kim started.  That leaves Kim holding a gun with no hope ever of pulling that trigger.  President Trump captured decades of nuclear deterrence and non-proliferation doctrine in a single tweet: “I have a bigger button – and mine works!”

The Road to Singapore is Paved with Tax Reform

Pres. Trump vowed to make America great again, to put America first.  Tax reform was probably the most important thing he’s done to prepare for the summit.  It unleashed an explosive burst of economic activity the likes of which America hasn’t seen since the early 1980s.

Tax reform was probably the most important thing he’s done to prepare for the summit.

Every country in the world wants to benefit from our coming boom.  Because of that, they followed our lead on sanctions.  We even put sanctions on China when we caught Chinese ships selling fuel to North Korea.  Nobody argued with us because they all want a piece of the American pie.  North Korea saw that for once they couldn’t just evade the sanctions.

Intricate Diplomacy

Trump hasn’t gotten enough credit for his diplomatic maneuvering.  If George H.W. Bush or Barack Obama had achieved this level of progress, the world would have been praising their wisdom and depth of understanding.  But Trump is accused of light-mindedness, even as his approach is bearing fruit.

Diplomacy is like fishing . . .

Diplomacy is like fishing: you hook a big trout, and you have to play him deftly to keep him on the hook without snapping the line. It’s a delicate operation, and challenging enough with one fish.   But in world diplomacy, you have 200 lines in the water, and a small team helping one man manage them all.

Trump is doing that successfully.  He is showing hostile nations an opportunity to become potential friends, without shedding blood.  He is restoring the balance of interests between the U.S. and allied nations, to eliminate burdens on American producers of goods and services.

It is true that Trump’s methods are unorthodox: he imposes tariffs, then before retaliatory tariffs are imposed back on us, he proposes that the G7 nations become one huge duty-free zone.  That keeps opponents and allies alike off balance.  But perhaps only a narrow, twisting path leads to solving the problem of North Korean WMD.  Buckle up.

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Bart Marcois

Bart Marcois (@bmarcois) was the principal deputy assistant secretary of energy for international affairs during the Bush administration. Additionally, Marcois served as a career foreign service officer with the State Department.

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