The Singapore Summit aptly encapsulates a reality TV presidency, but it must be remembered that even reality TV serves an important function.
The snapchat summit between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump just gets more and more surreal. It’s only been a day since its close, but there’s important things for us to pass comment upon. The first is the usual regarding CVID and denuclearisation, the second is a campaign ad like video shown to Kim Jong -un that basically threatened North Korea with war, and President Trump’s remarks regarding the cancellation of joint military exercises with South Korea.
It has been noted that the actual wording of the statement signed by the two leaders does not deal with North Korea’s missile programme. However, in his press conference after the summit Trump stated that Kim pledged to raze an important missile engine testing site. This pledge does not appear in the KCNA statement released after the summit, so we await further confirmation of this.
The best way to verify this would be by reading the official transcripts, but they would need to be declassified. There have been bust ups about what was precisely said in the past. For example, at a meeting between North Korean and US negotiators during Bush’s first term it was alleged that North Korea admitted to a uranium enrichment programme, a claim leaked to the press, but North Korea denied making that admission. That had a very bad effect on the diplomatic process at the time, and despite efforts to obtain a transcript through FOI laws it is still not known with certainty what was or wasn’t said at that meeting.
Press reports immediately after the Trump press conference implied that what was at issue was a site the North Koreans developed for testing the cold ejection of solid fuelled missiles from a canister of the type used on a TEL. That clearly isn’t a missile engine testing facilitaty. Solid fuelled motors are hot tested in the horizontal; this is North Korea testing a solid fuel motor
This is a video of a solid booster test for NASA’s Space Launch System.
What could Trump be referring to? The most obvious reference is to the static hot engine testing facility at Sohae. North Korea static hot tested its March 18 Revolution or Paektusan Engine at Sohae. That’s what the image below depicts
Sohae, however, is also associated with North Korea’s space programme and so long as North Korea has a space programme it will have a static hot engine testing facility, and one supposes that will continue to be the testing facility at Sohae. That means the “key” engine testing facility that Trump is speaking of most likely isn’t the facility that was used to hot test the March 18 Revolution engine that powers the booster of the Hwasong-12, Hwasong-14 and Hwasong-15 missiles.
The video below depicts a static hot test of the RS-25 booster engine of the Space Launch System; which reminds me that according to my mail NASA should have had a four engine cluster RS-25 test for the SLS by now
The point here is that so long as North Korea has a space programme it will have a static hot engine testing facility which is not in accord with complete, verified, and irreversible dismantlement as hitherto understood by the United States. The second is that, most likely, the facility at issue is not “key” for it is the Sohae facility that is key here. Previously, North Korea has indicated it will conduct a space launch in September this year and, it seems, from a new Space Launch Vehicle.
The foregoing applies to liquid propelled engines, of course, so the descriptor “key” would be more apt if in reference to the solid fuelled motor testing facility.
The other point regarding CVID is this line from KCNA’s post summit statement
Kim Jong Un and Trump had the shared recognition to the effect that it is important to abide by the principle of step-by-step and simultaneous action in achieving peace, stability and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula
That confirms what we already knew from the summit statement, namely that North Korea has not changed one iota its conception of denuclearisation. But it implies that the US has abandoned CVID and adopted the North Korean understanding of CVID. Now the language above is kind of weak i.e. it speaks of it being important to abide by Pyongyang’s step-by-step conception rather than explicitly stating that is what was agreed to.
Nothing in the summit statement binds the United States to North Korea’s conception, but the KCNA statement suggests that North Korea thinks the US has moved toward this. That could be a problem. We saw not long ago Trump cancel the summit when he learned that his understanding, that Kim was made to adopt CVID through his adroit statesmanship, was wrong. That shoe, it appears, is now on the other foot and that could lead to another bust up in future.
Trump presented to Kim a little video that had all the hallmarks of a campaign ad. If you look at the video you can see that Trump is, effectively, threatening war should North Korea not make the right choice between the two offered it. Watch and see for yourself. That threat can only be made good by risking a nuclear exchange.
On the military exercises with South Korea little concrete can be said. Trump in his news conference did say that military exercises will not be conducted whilst good faith negotiations are being pursued directed toward North Korea’s disarmament. The KCNA statement shows that this is also North Korea’s understanding.
It is not known to which exercises reference is being made. In August South Korea and the United States are due to conduct the annual Ulchi-Freedom Guardian exercises, so that may be what is being referred to. However, media reports stress that the Pentagon has not achieved any updated orders regarding US participation.
If it is true that joint military exercises have been cancelled, then this development is a positive. US-RoK military exercises were ratchetted up in scale during the Obama administration, a point of no small consequence as North Korea considers them to be part of what it refers to as Washington’s “hostile policy.” Military exercises, especially during Obama’s tenure, increasingly simulated counteroffensive operations of the type envisaged in US military planning which seeks not just to restore the status quo on the 38th parallel in any Korean war, but to envelop Pyongyang through joint manoeuvre warfare with the objective of incorporating the North into the South.
Critics have stated that the US need not have offered this concession to North Korea without something significant in return. With regard to considerations of power that is indeed true, but such considerations should not colour our assessment. What matters here is peace and stability. If the cancellation of military exercises contributes to peace and stability, well and good, irrespective of what implications it may have for perceptions of US power.
In August the Korean Peoples Army, including the strategic rocket forces, will not be placed on a higher state of alert assuming the Ulchi-Freedom Guardian exercises are cancelled, of course.
The problem here is that Trump’s word, and it is his word alone nothing about military exercises is pledged in the Singapore statement, is a fickle basis upon which to found world peace.
The surreal developments post summit reinforces the supposition that, for Trump, the summit was another spectacular meant to divert us from what he, his administration, and his party are doing to the American social fabric. Trump wanted theatrics and the appearance of great progress. Critics have pointed out that the summit was a reality TV show like summit, which it was, but notice that is as far as the critique goes. The connection to the reality TV aspect and the harmful policies at home is hardly, if at all, made.
The Trump presidency is not just a vacuous reality TV show presidency. It is real, real. It is about kicking working people, people of colour, and other marginalised groups in the teeth whilst our gaze is directed toward the melodrama.
That, after all, is what reality TV is, was, and always will be about. Reality TV is an instrument of class war, and so is the reality TV presidency and that includes the reality TV summitry.
The only thing missing from Sentosa Island was the G-strings and the pecs.