RICHARD BUTLER. Singapore: Sound and Lights  

Jun 18, 2018

Trump told us that, in Singapore, he would make it up as he went along. It appears that he kept his word on that. Afterwards he told the world that if it all tanks, he will “make up an excuse for it”. His central motive for the Summit was domestic distraction and, the usual addiction to self- aggrandizement. A potentially heavy price was paid in Singapore, by all affected by DPRK policies and, the US domestic distraction was not achieved.  

Two outstanding analyses published in this blog, provide virtually all that needs to be and, can be known at this stage, about the substance of what happened at the Singapore Summit and why: (see; Mack Williams and, Ramesh Thakur; Pearls and Irritations, 16th June).

That the Summit took place at all and that its central subject was the removal of nuclear weapons from the Korean peninsula, was of major importance. This subject and all of its multiple geo-political, strategic and security aspects, has been of increasing concern and not just in Northern Asia. War had been threatened and, instead, a Summit meeting took place of a kind that ,for a long time, had been unthinkable.

On the side of the US and its closest allies in the region, the goal had come to be defined as CVID: comprehensive, verifiable and irreversible, disarmament; of nuclear weapons.

It is fully understood, all round, that the achievement of this will involve a massive, lengthy and continuous process; the details of which would need to be designed, negotiated and then above all, agreed to by all sides. They could not be imposed.

Unsurprisingly, the Summit was staged substantially as a TV show. It included a US produced propaganda film about the bounty that awaited Kim and a disarmed DPRK. Initially, many journalist present though it was a DPRK origin film.

More importantly, Trump: watered down the CVID demand; but, assured all that disarmament would now be started promptly and proceed quickly.

Before leaving Singapore, Trump gave a media conference; in Trump’s words, “addressing the people of the world”. It lasted more than an hour and was embarrassingly dotted with self praise, and the associated criticism of all of his predecessors; contained incredible pretensions to understanding nuclear science, in detail; claimed that denuclearization contained an irresistible internal mechanism _ “once you start the process, it means its pretty well over”; and, characterized his and Kim’s presence together in cataclysmic terms.

I’m sitting on this stage with Chairman Kim and that’s going to get us to save 30 million lives.”

This farce was a perfect exemplar of the dilemma we all face as a consequence of Trump being President and, it must be said, of the now continually reported unwillingness or inability of sane people, not necessarily liberal tolerant people, just sane people to oppose his whims, or have him modify his instincts.

Its a dilemma because Trump’s determination to break things, to do things utterly differently from the way anyone else before him acted, in particular Obama, is showing up destructively in so many areas; but on DPRK has led to the decision, at least for now, not to bomb DPRK, but to take the route of diplomatic contact and negotiation.

The latter must be supported but, with eyes wide -open.

In the document Trump signed, CVID was reduced to: “complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula”. This has been the policy goal for some 20 years. What is new now, is the insistence on the establishment of mechanisms for verification and irreversibility, which the signed document omits.

In answer to questions, Trump assigned this omission to the level of detail that officials will be working on. The critical point however is that CVID is not mentioned in the document the two leaders signed and it is more than moot to wonder if it would have been signed by DPRK, if CVID had been specified. And, how then will the objective fare in the work of officials. At what point will the notion of DPRK as a contained nuclear weapon state emerge?

The Summit took place for the stated purpose of seeking a solution; reaching agreement at he highest levels of government on the steps needed for an enduring solution to what some states, in particular, see as a major problem in international relations and global security: the DPRK nuclear weapons capability.

During the meeting there was agreement that this was its purpose, but what was set in motion to pursue agreed goals was at the very least somewhat opaque and, that was because the shape and definition of the central objective: CVID was blurred, by Trump.

It seemed very clear from his often incoherent media conference that it was imperative that he emerge from the Summit in some way victorious, having presided over historic events, whatever they were. And, the DPRK side knew that this and Trump’s vanity, was the key to their own success in getting extraordinary recognition at very little cost.

Amazingly, largely overlooked in mainstream media reports of Trump’s bizarre media conference, ( which his handlers attempted to terminate), was the parting remarks by Trump, almost a kind of musing, when he said:

I may stand before you in six months and say ‘ Hey, I was wrong.’ I don’t know that I would ever admit that, but I’d find some kind of excuse. “

The US side claims that a mechanism has now been established for the detailed negotiation with DPRK for CVID; and, that this has been agreed upon and instructed by the two Presidents who met in Singapore.

Secretary of State Pompeo will lead for the US. Other interested parties, principally Japan, China and Russia will follow closely what transpires and can be expected to weigh-in, privately, if they see the emergence of trends or issues contrary to their high national interests. While this goes on it can be assumed that military action, by either side, will not be authorized; and, of course, that’s to the good.

Key amongst Trump’s motives for the extraordinary meeting in Singapore, was his wish to distract attention from the special enquiries and related judicial actions he faces at home. This is known to be the case not simply through Sherlockian logic, but through his own words, such in his tweets, and his advisors having asked repeatedly, how could such a “witch hunt,” as the enquiries into the President and his connections are now always labeled, be allowed to proceed when he is preoccupied in so much vital work; like saving the world from nuclear destruction.

Well, the Sounds and Lights of Singapore ended quickly. To their credit, when direct coverage of Singapore ended and Trump was winging and tweeting his way home on Air Force 1, domestic preoccupations assumed centre stage, as given their gravity, they should.

Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort was returned to custody for breaking bail through attempted witness tampering ( Trump has repeatedly lied about the period for which Manafort worked on his campaign), and Ivanka and Jared Trump were revealed to have made some $80 million on marketing products associated with the Trump brand and, possibly in contravention of the law.

This may appear as the resumption of normal service. Not true. On return to the US, Trump expressed his admiration for the respect for the Leader that the people of DPRK showed Kim, saying there should be more such respect in the US.

Richard Butler AC was Ambassador to the United Nations, Convenor of the Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, Executive Chairman of UNSCOM, the UN Special Commission to disarm Iraq.

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