31.05.2016 Author: Konstantin Asmolov

Would the US Change its Policy in Case of Trump’s Victory?

56456456546As the mass media report, Donald Tramp, a candidate running for the president of the United States, expressed his willingness to discuss the nuclear issue with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. In his interview with Reuters he particularly stated that he would be willing to talk to the North Korean leader and had no problems with that, although he did not propose a detailed plan on the resumption of a dialog with Pyongyang.

Mr. Trump’s statement induced a somewhat inadequate reaction, especially among laymen not familiar with the specifics of the US-North Korean relations and makes them believe that there will be a change of policy. Honestly, it is not clear why some circles do not understand that Trump is a pure water populist and treat him as a “progressive politician,” who, once in office, would pursue a reasonable policy, including in respect of Russia. It is not set in stone yet that he will take office either. As he does not appeal to everyone, many would rather vote for “anybody than Trump.” This attitude of some part of the US population downplays the slogan Trump is campaigning under “anyone, but not an old school politico.” Therefore, this article will focus more on the possibility or impossibility of drastic changes in case a representative of the Republican Party will be elected president.

First, it should be noted, that in addition to the statement concerning a dialog with Kim Jong-un Trump made many other statements, which sometimes prove to be contradictory. For example, he called Kim Jong-un “a maniac.” Having adopted a tough position toward Pyongyang, he called nuclear weapons “the most serious threat to peace.” He also emphasized that Kim Jong-un must be stopped. On one occasion he said that China should take measures to resolve the nuclear problem on the Korean Peninsula; otherwise, Beijing would see a decline in its trading relations with the US. Mr. Trump also said that South Korea and Japan should pay for the American troops stationed in these countries; otherwise, the troops could be withdrawn. At some point, though, he speculated that North Korea could be restrained if South Korea and Japan acquire nuclear weapons.

As it is well known, pre-election pledges are usually soon forgotten. In case with Mr. Trump, it could be especially true since he is planning to focus on internal American problems. Mr. Trump could use foreign policy, and especially the Korean issue, as a bargaining chip in the political dealings. It could also be treated as a low priority issue to be dealt with. Ultimately, attitude toward the “Korean issue” would, most probably, be determined not by Mr. Trump, who would be busy solving more critical issues, but by the people in charge of the US-North Korean policy.

Besides, the world knows several examples when rather significant changes in the US policy toward North Korea occurred within the tenure of one president. At the beginning of the 1990s, the Clinton administration was seriously considering a large-scale war against North Korea. The only thing that stopped it back then was that the number of projected casualties was so large that it would have shocked the American society. At the end of Bill Clinton’s term, Madeleine Albright visited Pyongyang. At the same time, Jo Myong-rok, the second man in the North Korean leadership of that time, visited Washington. The countries were already negotiating a visit of the US leader to Pyongyang. Madeleine Albright described these preparations in her memoirs. President George Bush-junior started his term with a very tough anti-North Korean rhetoric. At the end of his term, though, the six-party talks were very dynamic, and the parties were very close to the resolution of this complex issue.

In general, political amateurs often derive their notion of the limits of power of the US president by employing false associations with the leaders of other countries. Despite the US foreign policy is a “presidential” foreign policy (same as in Russia and South Korea), the similarity is only in the name.

Firstly, unlike other countries with a strong presidential rule, president of the US is the head of the executive branch; secondly, the president’s power is limited by the Congress (the balance of powers model), for which reason the US president has to engage in lengthy negotiations with senators on many foreign policy issues; thirdly, think tanks and research centers play an important role in the decision-making process and political lobbying, as often research center analysts intertwine with the authorities participating in the foreign policy decision-making process.

What’s more, the president has to pursue his policy within the limits of the established ideological and political “corridor” in order not to lose the support of his party and the public. The times of charismatic leaders able to stand up to the general trend are long gone (for the above reasons).

Thus, there are no grounds for being too hopeful. All the scenarios of development of the global situation should be taken into account. It should also be kept in mind that American analysts hold very different opinions on the Korean issue, on the one hand, while nobody regards Pyongyang as an equal partner, nor is willing to engage in a serious dialog with North Korea, on the other hand. Besides, US public opinion is influenced by the law invented by an American reporter Isaac Stone Fish (any information (even the most fantastic one) about the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea will find its audience and be accepted as truth). Americans consider North Korea as a personification of Mordor, and would always oppose the very idea of negotiating with a country belonging to the axis of evil.

Konstantin Asmolov, Ph.D, Chief Research Fellow of the Center for Korean Studies, Institute of Far Eastern Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”