President Trump’s diplomacy at the Singapore summit has upended what has become normal diplomatic procedure. But his method has firm historical precedent. Instead of the American president showing up to seal negotiations conducted by staff over a period of years, Trump is conducting negotiations himself, in front of the entire world.
Like watching the slaughter and butchering of an animal before it is cooked for dinner, it may be too much for some observers. They may prefer their diplomatic solutions served up on a plate, or at least in a plastic-covered Styrofoam platter.
Trump and Kim Jong Un concluded their historic summit meeting with an agreement to pursue the “complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.” Notably, the agreement was aspirational, and did not contain the details of how compliance would be verified or denuclearization would be made irreversible. That, Trump said, will be negotiated in future meetings.
Trump’s Diplomacy Like Post-WW2
President Nixon wrote that a president should never attend a summit until he knows what is on the other side of it. That has been the norm in western diplomatic circles for 70 years. But President Trump attended the summit with Kim Jong Un in order to negotiate the outcome of what’s on the other side. His approach is more in line with diplomatic practice before the 1950s.
This is the first time since the Teheran Conference at the close of World War Two that an American president is negotiating an international agreement, rather than putting his seal on something that already was negotiated. Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin came together with a handful of advisors and negotiated the post-war international order.
This approach fits with President Trump’s “Great Man” view of history and world affairs. That view holds that major historical progress is made when individual leaders make important decisions. Historical progress is not the product of invisible, inexorable forces (think “the arc of history” or “dialectical materialism”). Rather, major historical events are shaped by national leaders, who convince the people of their nations to follow them.
President Trump and Kim Jong Un have agreed to pursue a simple agenda. The text of the final communique makes it clear that this is the first of many steps.
Text of the Joint Statement
“President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un conducted a comprehensive, in-depth, and sincere exchange of opinions on the issues related to the establishment of new U.S.–DPRK relations and the building of a lasting and robust peace regime on the Korean Peninsula. President Trump committed to provide security guarantees to the DPRK, and Chairman Kim Jong Un reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
“Convinced that the establishment of new U.S.–DPRK relations will contribute to the peace and prosperity of the Korean Peninsula and of the world, and recognizing that mutual confidence building can promote the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un state the following:
- The United States and the DPRK commit to establish new U.S.–DPRK relations in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity.
- The United States and the DPRK will join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.
- Reaffirming the April 27, 2018 Panmunjom Declaration, the DPRK commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
- The United States and the DPRK commit to recovering POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.
“Having acknowledged that the U.S.–DPRK summit—the first in history—was an epochal event of great significance in overcoming decades of tensions and hostilities between the two countries and for the opening up of a new future, President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un commit to implement the stipulations in this joint statement fully and expeditiously. The United States and the DPRK commit to hold follow-on negotiations, led by the U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and a relevant high-level DPRK official, at the earliest possible date, to implement the outcomes of the U.S.–DPRK summit.
“President Donald J. Trump of the United States of America and Chairman Kim Jong Un of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea have committed to cooperate for the development of new U.S.–DPRK relations and for the promotion of peace, prosperity, and security of the Korean Peninsula and of the world.”
In Front of the Whole World
President Trump made it clear in his press conference that he will not wait patiently through a lengthy process. He said denuclearization will be complete and verifiable, and that he expects Kim will start it immediately upon arriving home.
“I think he [Kim] will do these things. I may be wrong. I may stand before you in six months and say, hey, I was wrong. I don’t know I’ll ever admit that. I’ll find some excuse.”
Admitting the possibility of failure, Trump told Eliana Johnson, “I think he [Kim] will do these things. I may be wrong. I may stand before you in six months and say, hey, I was wrong. I don’t know I’ll ever admit that. I’ll find some excuse.”
Watching an American president conduct diplomatic negotiations openly is a new experience for diplomats, scholars and normal citizens alike. Like watching the slaughter and butchering of an animal before it is cooked for dinner, it may be too much for some observers. They may prefer their diplomatic solutions served up on a plate, or at least in a plastic-covered Styrofoam platter.
But it may be the only way forward from a situation that has been “kicked down the road,” as President Obama put it, for several administrations. President Trump has laid his prestige on the line, and he is committed to ensuring the success of his venture. He closed his press conference by saying, “This is, to me, is an important event in world history and to be really true to myself, I have to add I want to get it completed…. If you don’t get the ball over the goal line, it doesn’t mean enough.”
He’s doing it himself, in full view of the world, and expects it will progress quickly. You can’t ask for a more public commitment, or a more transparent process.