Mearsheimer: Trump-Kim summit will worsen relations

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Mearsheimer: Trump-Kim summit will worsen relations


Panelists at the Korea Peace Foundation’s second forum on strategic dialogue on the Korean Peninsula pose for a group photo in Seoul on Thursday. From left: Kwon Man-hak, a professor of international studies at Kyung Hee University in Seoul; Yoon Young-kwan, the foreign affairs minister from 2003 to 2004; Hong Seok-hyun, chairman of the foundation; John Mearsheimer, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago; Song Min-soon, the foreign affairs minister from 2006 to 2008; and Kim Hyung-ki, the vice unification minister from 2001 to 2003. [OH JONG-TAEK]

The United States and North Korea are “highly unlikely” to reach a deal at their bilateral summit, and the meeting will only exacerbate relations between both sides, political scientist John Mearsheimer said Thursday at a forum in Seoul.

The University of Chicago professor said it was still unclear whether U.S. President Donald Trump would actually meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un by the end of May as proposed.

And if they do, they will be “doomed” from the start, Mearsheimer said. The professor doubts that North Korea will ever give up its nuclear weapons, and with Trump insisting dismantlement, there will be no room for common ground.

What’s worse, Mearsheimer said, is that neither leader has much experience in diplomacy, but they are nonetheless confident that they can fully operate on their own to strike a deal.

In the end, it will be “foolish in the extreme” for North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons because it is the regime’s ultimate deterrent against the United States, the international relations scholar and leading proponent of the theory of offensive realism said.

The only possible way to get North Korea to denuclearize would be for the United States and South Korea to adopt a fundamentally different approach in dealing with the North, he continued.

The allies will have to stop threatening the country with regime change and instead engage in extensive diplomacy.

But the core problem with that solution, according to Mearsheimer, is that Washington doesn’t believe in diplomacy with adversaries.

The United States is “addicted to war” and Trump “doesn’t believe in diplomacy,” he said. Trump prefers the “big stick” approach - employing threats or using actual military force - when dealing with Kim.

“I do believe there is real danger that President Trump will launch a limited strike against North Korea,” Mearsheimer said, which would be a “very dangerous” situation because the North would then retaliate against South Korea. “There’s no way Kim Jong-un will not retaliate,” which could lead to another war on the peninsula.

Mearsheimer was delivering his insight as part of a forum hosted by the Korea Peace Foundation. Regarding the outlook on East Asia in the next 20 years, Mearsheimer said that if China continues to rise economically, it will turn to military might and try to dominate East Asia the way the United States dominates the Western Hemisphere.

“I think what will happen over time is that North Korea will move closer to China, South Korea will move closer to America and as the Chinese-American competition heats up, that will pull along North Korea-South Korea competition as well,” he said.

Mearsheimer’s keynote came a day after President Moon Jae-in teased the possibility of a three-way summit including him, Kim and Trump, stressing that the summit diplomacy of the next few weeks will have to “completely end” the nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula.

Moon is expected to meet with Kim in late April and Trump said he would meet with Kim by the end of May, though the precise timeline of both summits has yet to be decided.

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