With Trump calling the North Korea talks back on (well, for now), I think it’s important to take a moment and consider what’s possible in terms of an outcome. There’s a few things we need to consider, so from best to worst, let’s go through them.
Best Case Scenario: Korean Unification under President Trump
Odds: Playing Powerball with sequential numbers and winning the jackpot
An end to the Korean War. After nearly 70 years, the Korean War could finally end and, if we were lucky enough, the Korean Peninsula would unify once more. North Korea would give up its weapons, the prisoners released, families unified, and it would all be because President Trump was able to work out a deal right there on the spot.
More Possible Scenario: North and South Korea make Peace Under China
Odds: Putting Your Savings in ZTE to at least double your money
Here’s my take: It’s likely that the Trump talks won’t result in anything that involves Trump or the United States at all. It’s far more likely that President Xi Jinping of China is going to wind up negotiating any peace agreement.
For the past year President Xi has been playing a long-game of diplomacy: With the rise of an autocratic President in the United States that’s focused on nationalism and a more isolationist trade policy, this is the chance for China to become the world’s lone superpower. In the past year he’s abolished term limits in his country so he can stay President, essentially for life. He’s brokered new trade agreements with the South Asian nations while pushing the United States out of those agreements, and most importantly, President Xi has had Kim Jong-Un of North Korea over for meetings that proceeded Kim Jong-Un going to South Korea for the first time ever.
Kim Jong-Un meeting with a U.S. President will be a massive political win for him on the international stage, and will help give him more negotiating power as he’s seen no longer as the leader of a “Hermit Kingdom” but, instead, a major player on the international stage.
The meeting is likely to result in Trump not getting anything done for the United States, but it will provide President Xi a chance to swoop in and save the day.
With Kim Jong-Un now seen as a “respectable” world leader, President Xi could then come in to broker the end of the Korean War. This means:
- North and South Korea will have an actual peace agreement
- North Korea will give up its Nuclear Program
- China will begin working with North Korea and loosen restrictions on them
- Korea will see family unification’s
- North Korea will be allowed to keep its inhumane conditions and continue its human rights abuses
- A new Trade Agreement that involves North Korea
We could see this within the year, but obviously not all of it. The end of the Korean War is fairly likely in this scenario, and China would likely make use of North Korea’s labor.
What about a unified Korea, you ask? It’s not going to happen if China leads the talks.
China is terrified of a unified Korea. A united Korea would take all the economic power of South Korea and merge that with the military might of North Korea, posing a threat to China in relation to being a superpower in Southeast Asia. It wouldn’t be an immediate threat, but over a decade or so it could easily rival China and Japan.
Possible Scenario: Trump Brokers a North Korea Deal to End their Nuclear Program
Odds: The Philadelphia 76ers in 2019 winning the NBA Championship
It’s been widely reported that North Korea essentially blew up its nuclear test sites due to a cave-in at one of their locations a little more than a year ago. The collapse has never been fully confirmed, but the gesture of them blowing up their test sites was just that. No independent nuclear inspectors were allowed to check the sites, either.
North Korea most likely has not working Nuclear Test Sites, so them giving it up is a win-win scenario here: They lose nothing, and in return they get an ease on restrictions with regards to imports and possibly trade.
I think it’s possible, and to some degree the most likely scenario.
That said, the agreement could come out one of a few ways:
- Complete denuclearization within 5 years with no pre-conditions in order to receive aid (an incredibly bad idea)
- An agreement that allows for independent nuclear inspectors during an X-year period and, in return, an easing sanctions with actual benchmarks (Best Case Scenario)
- An agreement with independent inspections, but a military strike as a consequence of failing one (not very likely, but I could see Trump doing this)
- An agreement that also releases U.S. and South Korea hostages
The most likely denuclearization agreement would involve releasing more hostages and a time frame that allows for inspectors in return for easing sanctions. The caveat would be what would the punishments be for breaking this agreement.
Additionally, I’ll toss in that a denuclearization agreement would most likely have at least three parties involved, such as South Korea. That’s largely because they would likely look at what happen in Libya, as well as John Bolton’s “Libya Model” comments, as a history of what this President has done with previous agreements.
Most Likely Scenario: Trump gets no concessions, both walk away with promise of more talks
This is the one you put the smart money on.
Trump and Kim Jong-Un meet, they’re pleasant with each other, have some amazing photos taken, and that’s it. No one agrees to anything other than having more talks. Trump leaves because he just scored a massive win for his “Nixon goes to China” moment; The First Sitting U.S. President to go to North Korea and meet their leader. Kim Jong-Un gets credit for meeting Trump and for wanting to meet with him again for peace.
At that point I’m still going with China swooping in at some point, but that’s me.
Worst Case Scenario: War with North Korea
Odds: Skid Row Reuniting with Sebastian Bach / 1000 – 1
This is the worst case scenario, but also just kinda possible.
You have two world leaders who are obsessed with their public appearance, making sure they look good in all meetings, and looking as strong as possible. The chances that one of them may do something to anger the other so much that they just throw up their hands… it isn’t impossible, but its not outside the realm of possibility.
That said, there’s no benefit for North Korea in that action, let alone for the United States. For Kim Jong-Un he just lost any chance of getting restrictions from China lifted, he’s now plunged into a war with a nation on its southern border that has way more resources, and his nation is likely to get erased. The United States has nothing to gain, either: Between the multiple wars we’re already fighting, a full-blown traditional war with a nation will mean pulling troops from those nations to there, the trade issues alone would disrupt world markets, and that’s before getting to the sheet human cost of a conflict.
In closing, the most likely scenario I see is a mix of the 2nd and 3rd options I wrote about. Trump may get North Korea to agree to denuclearization, but I see China and President Xi coming in afterwards and brokering an actual North/South Korea peace agreement. I would be pleasantly surprised if Trump