International Security Expert Says Trump’s “Brinksmanship” Must Be Followed by Humility in Talks with North Korea. Is that Possible?

International Security Expert Says Trump’s “Brinksmanship” Must Be Followed by Humility in Talks with North Korea. Is that Possible?

May 16, 20182 min read

In less than a month, President Trump is scheduled to meet with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un in Singapore.

Negotiations leading to the summit have led to the release of Americans from N. Korean prisons and reports of the razing of a nuclear facility. But the world has also seen the summit threatened by military drills conducted by South Korea and the U.S.

Is such a meeting between two men who’ve engaged in name-calling and threats of nuclear war even possible? If so, what should we expect?

Baylor's Peter Campbell, Ph.D., an expert on strategy, international relations and security, says:

“I think Kim is willing to talk because he is actually in a very weak position because of the strained relations between his regime and China. It might be the case that the best that Kim can hope for from this crisis is to portray himself as the champion of peace between the two Koreas. Though, when speculating in this way, we should always recall that Kim is unpredictable, as his recent shift in behavior, from warlike rhetoric to peacemaker and back again, demonstrates. Now that President Trump has accepted the offer of talks, Kim appears willing to use their cancellation as leverage. However, this is a dangerous game. President Trump would likely be incensed by such an embarrassment and could then argue that diplomatic efforts have failed, leading to another and more dangerous stage in the crisis.

“I think that we arrived at this juncture through a classic strategy of brinksmanship. The Trump administration showed a willingness to escalate the crisis that Kim may not have anticipated. Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis and Eisenhower during the Berlin Crisis showed a similar willingness. However, the key to brinksmanship, as both Kennedy and Eisenhower understood, is giving your opponent a face-saving way to get out of the crisis. Allowing Kim to portray himself as the champion of peace may be the price the U.S. must pay to bring an end to this crisis. For this to work the Trump administration must not claim, in the immediate aftermath of the crisis, that they defeated the Kim regime. President George H. W. Bush demonstrated such restraint when he refused to ‘dance on the Berlin Wall’ at the end of the Cold War and declare the U.S. the winner of that struggle. Such humility might be extremely difficult for Trump to muster, but I see it as likely essential to bring this crisis to an end.”

Campbell is available to speak about U.S. relations with North Korea.


Connect with:
  • Peter Campbell, Ph.D.
    Peter Campbell, Ph.D. Associate Professor of Political Science

    Professor Campbell studies international security, civil-military relations, international relations and policy relevance

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