The Hanoi summit was bound to fail
For a country to develop nuclear weapons, it has to invest a substantial amount of resources and overcome a number of international hurdles. This means that there is always a set of clear objectives — security or political — behind the pursuit of these deadly bombs. For North Korea and its dictator, Kim Jong un, the first objective is regime survival. The second is to rupture the American alliances with Japan and South Korea. And the distant third one is to achieve Korean unification on its own terms. The US President Donald Trump hoped that he could sell a dream of prosperous North Korea to convince Mr Kim about the merits of denuclearisation. The move did not work in Hanoi where Mr Trump and Mr Kim met for two days after their first summit in Singapore in June 2018.
In a press conference that followed the abrupt ending of the summit, Mr Trump informed that Mr Kim demanded the lifting of economic sanctions in their entirety. In return, North Korea did not agree to a comprehensive, verifiable, irreversible denuclearisation. All it could offer was selectively giving up a few nuclear facilities (and not even the most important ones). There was also a problem with sequencing. Mr Kim wants sanctions to be lifted before he makes any substantial progress on denuclearisation. This clearly did not cut any ice with the Americans. It is unclear why the agreement did not come to pass. Did Mr Kim agree to completely dismantle the Yongbyon nuclear complex but the US wanted to see other facilities being dismantled too? Or did Mr Kim resist giving up Yongbyon in the first place? North Korea uses the Yongbyon complex to produce plutonium and enrich uranium but it has other facilities as well to enrich uranium.
After the Singapore summit, Mr Trump had announced a sudden suspension of joint military exercises with South Korea. He called those exercises “expensive” and “provocative”. He once again confirmed on Thursday that the exercises will remain suspended for cost reasons. So North Korean nukes have already been successful in weakening the US-South Korea alliance. The regime in North Korea is not just surviving but now negotiating as equals with the US government. If the nukes have done so much for Mr Kim, why would he give them up? But Mr Trump still is hopeful despite the failed Hanoi summit.