The DPRK head of state Kim Jong-un has already arrived in Singapore in what represents his first foreign trip by plane since assuming the supreme leadership of his country in 2011. Donald Trump who also famously prefers to stay close to home, has jetted off from a miserably unsuccessful G7 summit in Canada and arrived in the city-state founded by Lee Kuan Yew moments ago. In many ways the pre-summit has already kicked off as Kim Jong-un has sat down for a meeting with Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. The brief talks appeared cordial and productive.
In many ways the fact that the meeting is happening at all, is a prima facie demonstration of the meeting’s qualified success. Never before has a sitting US President met with a DPRK head of state and for that reason alone, the meeting is historic. But while the meeting itself is a history making item, the world sits and waits to see if there will be any tangible results of the summit. While the Singapore summit is the visual centrepiece of a much broader and deeper peace process in which China, Russia and the two Korean states themselves are doing the heavy lifting, the summit is a proverbial acid test that will demonstrate just how far the US will be willing to go to accept the status quo of an otherwise Asian authored, owned and executed peace process. Here are the possibilities beginning with the best case scenario and ending with the worst.
An agreement to end the Korean War and respectful de-militarisation + dropping of sanctions
In an ideal world, the meeting between Kim and Trump would produce an agreement to prepare the necessary and long awaited treaty to end the Korean War/Fatherland Liberation War which has technically raged since 1950 even though hostilities were ended in 1953 with the signing of an armistice.
Additionally, such an agreement would in the most optimistic situation lead to discussions where by the DPRK would agree to a respectful de-nuclearisation according to a plan unrelated to the humiliating one proposed by US National Security Adviser John Bolton, while the US President would agree to make a commitment to withdraw American weapons of mass destruction and eventually large numbers of troops from South Korea. Under such a scenario, the US would also prepare a UN Security Council Resolution to begin lifting sanctions against the DPRK. It is clear that Russia and China would support such measures while Britain and France would go along with whatever the other preeminent UNSC members sought.
This idea scenario is not impossible given the fact that there is no doubt of Kim Jong-un’s sincere intentions to seek peace and prosperity for the Korean people and likewise, unlike some of his advisers, Donald Trump has struck some positive notes regarding the meeting in recent hours. That being said, such an agreement would be an incredibly tall order.
Likelihood of this scenario: 5/10
Agreement to end Korean War and de-militarisation agreed in spirit but with no firm agreement
When Kim Jong-un took his southern counterpart Moon Jae-in by the hand and walked him across the Demilitarised Zone into the DPRK before both sharing a day of discussions on the southern side of the artificial border, it was a sign that the long cold Korean War would end. The question now is not so much a matter of if but of when.
Because the war is over in all but name, finalising a treaty to be signed by Kim and Moon ending the war will be a far easier process than working on the details of DPRK de-nuclearisation or the even more vexed issue of the ‘de-Americanisation’ of South Korea. In such an agreement, the US may not agree to fully lift sanctions all at once, but at least a partial relaxation of sanctions (which would then be rubber stamped by the UN Security Council) would be likely.
Because of this, the most realistic major outcome of the meeting with be an agreement to pave the way for the formal end to war in Korea while the specifics of de-militarisation and sanctions will be discussed at a later date.
Likelihood of this scenario: 7/10
Preliminary De-nuclearisation Agreement and preliminary agreement to drop sanctions sooner rather than latter…just not all at once
The hawkish Trump administration has made it clear that the DPRK eliminating its nuclear programme and possibly its ballistic missile programme too is a more important priority than taking positive steps towards Korean peace, reconciliation and mutual economic development. Because of this, Trump may tell Kim that the only offer available is one where the DPRK will have to de-nuclearise first and then at a later stage, discuss a peace treaty, the dropping of sanctions and other economic agreements.
It is highly likely that Trump and his advisers will aim for this outcome although if Kim reacts in a substantially positive manner to such proposals, it could hasten other items on the broad agenda before the end of the year, including a peace treaty and the dropping of sanctions.
Likelihood of this scenario: 8/10
Agreement to formally establish diplomatic relations between the US and DPRK but no other concrete agreements beyond celebrating the general spirit of de-nuclearisation
This outcome would be more or less a glorified photo-op in pursuit of establishing formal diplomatic relations between Washington and Pyongyang, something that would be an achievement of sorts but one that could ultimately lead to little in the very near future.
With Donald Trump hinting that this may be possible and that furthermore, he may invite Kim Jong-un to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, it may be that because Trump’s own advisers don’t actually want any substantial results from the Singapore summit, that he instead might opt to play host (as he is very inclined to do) at the same resort that has previously hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Premier Shinzō Abe.
In this sense, the Singapore meeting will represent a breaking of the ice and a path towards more formal discussions between Kim and Trump at a later date and in a venue where Trump clearly feels more powerful than in Singapore.
Likelihood of this scenario: 7.5/10
Agreement to meet at a later date and in a different location after developing a personal understanding
It could also be the case that without coming up with any concrete agreement, including an agreement to formalise diplomatic relations, that the US President and DPRK head of state may simply agree to continue discussions elsewhere in the future after having discussed each side’s intentions, desires and concerns.
Likelihood of this scenario: 6.5/10
Trump walks away from the table
Trump has threatened to walk away from the table if things do not go his way and has even said that he will be able to sense Kim Jong-un’s attitude towards the meeting after one minute of being in the room with him. That being said, the optics of such a walk out would not only reflect poorly among Trump’s domestic base who want him to succeed in the summit at some level, but it would also send a message to China, South Korea and of course the DPRK, that Trump is not serious about the peace process.
Likelihood of this scenario: 3/10
It should be noted that none of the aforementioned scenarios are mutually exclusive. There is certainly room for a combination of any of the possible scenarios. What is clear though is that the DPRK is far more willing to do a deal than many of Donald Trump’s own advisers. This is the case for thefairly self-evident reason that Kim Jong-un clearly wants peace while many on the US side including John Bolton, Mike Pence and Nikki Haley clearly do not want peace. It was Kim Jong-un’s extending of an olive branch to the South Korean government and people which instigated the current peace process in the first place and throughout the process, the DPRK has gone above and beyond in both showing good will towards all parties to the discussions, all the while taking the substantial step to dismantle its nuclear testing facility before the Singapore summit.
In this sense, the ball is largely in Trump’s court because contrary to western stereotypes, Kim Jong-un is anything but a war monger. Kim has shown himself to be a leader who has taken a proactive, genuine and comprehensive path towards peace while asking only for basic and rational security guarantees in return. Even while building and testing his nuclear arsenal, Kim and his colleagues always made clear that once nuclear parity is reached, the DPRK would be ready, willing and able to discuss peace with any and all partners including the United States. Kim clearly sees the future of his country as one that can work with Seoul, Beijing, Moscow, other Asian partners and maybe even the US in order to expand an economy that in spite of sanctions continues to grow under Kim’s leadership. Kim has made the decision to embrace multipolarity based on the confidence derived from a position of domestic strength, the presence of a peace minded leader in Seoul, the realisation of America’s long-term gradual geopolitical decline, and the clear economic guarantees for interconnectivity from neighbouring superpowers China and Russia and other partners in the wider pan-Asian economic space.
Kim Jong-un has not only done everything he said he would do, but he has done so with grace, good humour, compassion towards a singular Korean people and with a remarkable tolerance for the chaos and poor manners that have come to typify Washington. If the meeting is less than a success, it will not be Kim Jong-un’s fault. Furthermore, those in Beijing, Moscow, Seoul and even Tokyo will be aware of this reality.