US Politics

John Bolton, North Korea and the Art of the Deal

John Bolton's appointment as President Trump's National Security Advisor has raised concerns amongst US allies and foreign policy experts, especially when it comes to North Korea. Andy Laub explains the risks and prospects of a deal with North Korea under an aggressive foreign policy team with Bolton and Pompeo at its helm.


Ever since the announcement on March 8th that President Trump had agreed to meet with North Korean Leader Kim Jong-Un, the surprises out of the White House have just kept coming. From the March 13th firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson via Twitter, who is slated to be replaced by current CIA Director Mike Pompeo, to the March 22nd announcement that National Security Advisor Lt. General H.R McMaster would resign and be replaced by conservative firebrand and former U.S Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, President Trump’s inner circle has seen a considerable change. The staff shakeup of the two most important foreign policy positions complicates the upcoming Trump-Kim summit in May. Since its announcement, the summit has received notably little attention as both Washington and Pyongyang have been quiet about their preparations for the big diplomatic event just two months away.

U.S allies showed concern following the announcement of Bolton’s appointment trying to ascertain what foreign policy and diplomacy under him would look like. As hawkish as they come, Mr. Bolton failed to win Senate confirmation in 2005 from his own party for the position of U.S Ambassador to the UN. The position of National Security Advisor, however, does not require Senate confirmation and is perhaps the most important foreign policy adviser to the President. Mr. Bolton, an architect of the Iraq War as Under Secretary of State as well as the now debunked theory of “weapons of mass destruction,” recently penned an op-ed arguing that the United States should bomb North Korea and has frequently advocated for regime change. This rhetoric is again quite the turnaround for President Trump, who dropped his earlier “fire and fury” rhetoric towards North Korea, making a shift towards a more diplomatic posture since accepting Mr. Kim’s invitation to meet. The shift raises questions about Mr. Trump’s true intentions for this summit when his actions do not coincide with his rhetoric. President Trump ran in the 2016 campaign against the typical hawkish neoconservative foreign policy establishment especially on the Iraq War and nation-building and frequently criticized President George W. Bush. Yet, he promoted two of the most prominent neoconservative cheerleaders of those policies to his top foreign policy and national security positions, both of whom will be heavily involved in this historic summit. Both President Trump and Bolton seem to agree on the future of the JCPOA, which has raised concerns about their posture towards nuclear diplomacy with North Korea. However, a nuclear disarmament agreement with North Korea would be much harder than it was with Iran, given that Iran did not already possess nuclear weapons whereas North Korea does and has successfully tested them on numerous occasions. Thus, to accomplish any deal with North Korea, the United States would need to work backward and make concessions that people like Mr. Bolton are unlikely to do in order to get the North Koreans to give up their nuclear weapons program.

North Korea also has a history of using negotiations to buy time to continue advancing its nuclear ambitions as was the case during the 1994 Agreed Framework and 2006 six-party talks. Former Ambassador to South Korea Christopher Hill, who led the six-party talks, recently remarked at an Asia Society event: “It’s hard to see the Trump Administration, which has been so adamant about getting out of the Iran deal, reaching a deal with North Korea that would have to be far more robust.” Backing out of the JCPOA would also make it harder for diplomacy with North Korea, given that the North Koreans could easily see the United States as not keeping their word or an agreement being worthless if it could change during the next administration. North Korea has frequently referenced its nuclear weapons program as a “deterrent” or “reaching the nuclear balance of power” with the United States to prevent them from attacking. After successfully testing ballistic missiles with nuclear capabilities, as well as a hydrogen bomb, Kim Jong-Un probably feels he has more chips to bring to the bargaining table. He will also likely be probing Mr. Trump for what security guarantees and concessions he can get out of the United States. President Trump’s inconsistencies concerning his administration’s North Korea policy or lack thereof along with a far more aggressive foreign policy team in Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Bolton raises doubts about its seriousness towards diplomacy in resolving the North Korea nuclear issue. With confirmations that Kim Jong-Un is currently in Beijing meeting with Xi Jinping, the United States will be faced with more challenges as the U.S. enters into a trade war with China.

Andy Laub is the Director for Partnerships and Multilateral Affairs Analyst at Political Insights. He also serves as the International Chapters Director for Young Professionals in Foreign Policy. Andy received his Master of Science in Global Affairs from New York University.

Please note that opinions expressed in this article are solely those of our contributors, not of Political Insights, which takes no institutional positions.

Photo Credit: Daily Express

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