"It is a train wreck waiting to happen"
Robert Patman: “I think in the short term the North Korea/USA summit is a welcome step forward. At least Mr Trump and Kim Jong Un are not exchanging insults via social media. In the long term however, I think the results are questionable. In the document that was produced at the summit Kim basically reiterated what previous North Korean governments have been prepared to do in 1994 and 2005, which was to work towards nuclear disarmament. And in return Mr Trump has made a substantial concession, without apparently consulting the South Korean government, of suspending military exercises with the South Korean government.”
“Now, that clearly would be received as great news in Pyongyang, because this has been a long-term objective of the North Korean government stretching back 30 years. In that sense, it’s a tentative step forward. Of course Mr Trump would argue that the previous multilateral efforts haven’t worked. And that this at least opens the possibility of using his deal-making capacities to open the door a bit further. But I think that remains to be seen.”
Guyon Espiner: “And what about reaction when the dust settles from Japan? It had missiles flying over its territory.”
Robert Patman: “South Korea and Japan have expressed concern that the US has apparently made quite a substantial concession. Japan is taking a close look at the fact that America, without consulting a close ally, has indicated that it’s putting its military support somewhat on hold in the hope that it can foster a more constructive relationship with one of the world’s most repressive regimes. I think it’s also sobering for New Zealand in a sense because we believe in a rules-based system. Mr Trump met with a group of leaders who also believe in rules-based international relations – the G7 – and he found himself very uncomfortable there. He finds himself apparently more comfortable in the company of authoritarian leaders.”
Marcelle Dawson: “Do we trust a deal that is being made by people who have shown themselves to be bullies and possibly morally bankrupt?”
Guyon Espiner: “Do North Korea trust a deal that’s done when they look across to Iran and see that deal ripped up?”
Tony Ballantyne: “I’m sceptical about that. I think the recent pattern of behaviour from the United States appears fickle and arbitrary. Trump has approached this as simply a matter of the relationship between the United States and North Korea and hasn’t really been attuned to the wider regional context. It has been quite tin-eared about its relationship with Japan. But it also doesn’t recognise the resonance of these relationships with places like Taiwan.”
Guyon Espiner: “As Churchill said, better jaw-jaw than war-war. Should we be encouraged at least that they’re talking at that top level?”
David B. MacDonald: “In terms of entertainment value, yes. But that’s really about it. It is a train wreck waiting to happen. It won’t be long before Trump sours on any agreement he might make with Kim, and the same will be true of Kim. His dynasty is notorious for stringing along promises, making unreasonable demands, and then just walking away. The real beneficiary of this is in a sense Kim but also China as well. Behind the scenes, this may be an exercise in North Korea and China strengthening their relationship together. And having a bit of a laugh at the Americans. I suspect there’s a lot more rigmarole going on with other key players that are far more savvy about the longer term interests of someone like Trump for example.”
More about the speakers
Professor Robert Patman teaches international relations at the University of Otago and is a well-known commentator on international political affairs. His most recent book, referred to in the panel discussion, is New Zealand and the World: Past, present and future. His research interests concern US foreign policy, international relations, global security, great powers.
Professor Tony Ballantyne is the Pro-Vice-Chancellor Humanities at the University of Otago. His research focuses on the cultural history of the British Empire during the 19th Century and the changing place of NZ within the British empire.
Professor David B. MacDonald is professor in political science at the University of Guelph, Ontario and a former senior lecturer in the University of Otago’s political studies department (2002-2007). His research interest is indigenous politics in Canada, NZ and the US. He has also worked extensively in the areas of international relations, American foreign policy, Holocaust, genocide studies and critical race theory.
Dr Marcelle Dawson is a senior lecturer in sociology at the University of Otago and a key organiser of the university’s annual Foreign Policy School. Her research interests are social movements, protest and social change, social identity and alternative futures.
This session was recorded at Parliament by RNZ in June 2018, in association with The University of Otago