Terrible Twos? Taking Stock of U.S.-North Korea Relations Two Years after Singapore

Featuring Victor Cha, Suzanne DiMaggio, David Kang, & Doug Bandow
Donald Trump and Kim Jong‐​un made history on June 12, 2018, when they met in Singapore for the first U.S.-North Korea leadership summit. This remarkable and controversial moment followed a year of increasingly hostile rhetoric and actions that risked bringing the two countries to blows. At the time, the Singapore summit provided a glimmer of hope for a new era of U.S.-North Korea diplomatic engagement, made all the more dramatic by the tumultuous year that preceded it. The past two years have deflated hopes for the future. The next two U.S.-North Korea summits produced no real progress on denuclearization or more‐​modest nuclear risk reduction. After some initial gains in late 2018, inter‐​Korean diplomacy also deadlocked as Kim refused to acknowledge Moon Jae-in’s calls to work together on a peace regime. Late last year, Kim seemed to accept the fact that economic sanctions would not be lifted and signaled a shift toward prolonged struggle against the United States. He even hinted at a demonstration of a “new strategic weapon” in the near future. But then 2020 happened. The first six months of this year saw numerous shocks and events that could have a significant impact on U.S.-North Korea relations. The COVID-19 pandemic, rumors of Kim’s failing health, and South Korean legislative elections are bound to affect nuclear diplomacy.