Mansudae Korea

How the US Midterms will affect diplomacy with North Korea

At time of writing, the US midterms are mere days away and pollsters are beginning to make the first solid calls on the outcomes. Leading predictions suggest that the Democrats will claim a majority in the House of Representatives whilst the Senate will remain controlled by the Republican party. Like many things in politics, everything is connected and the impact of a major loss for the US President in, what is essentially, a referendum on his presidency, could lower the negotiating position of his administration in talks with Pyongyang.

Donald Trump made significant concessions at the first summit with no notable concessions in return

Donald Trump has already demonstrated that he is keen to use his perceived success on the ‘North Korea issue’ as an example of a major victory of his presidency. Assuming that the Republican party loses control of the House after the election, it is likely that Donald Trump will be looking for any opportunity to demonstrate the success that he can bring to US foreign policy and Pyongyang will know this, hence their eagerness to get a second summit organised as soon as possible and use the administration’s desperate need for a ‘win’ to coax more concessions out of the US side before the President becomes pre-occupied with domestic affairs since a Democrat-led house is likely to pursue Donald Trump more aggressively on his campaigns connections with Russia once the Mueller probe results are released in the near future.

In summary, Pyongyang will likely use a Republican loss against the administration. The DPRK will become emboldened as Washington becomes less likely to walk away from any ongoing negotiations for fear of losing their most prominent foreign policy success story allowing the northern side to make higher demands in exchange for any concession, however small. This is the result of allowing a single foreign policy decision (not even a success yet) to become central to the administration’s ongoing self-appreciation campaign to the public, and since they cannot afford to lose that success, they have inadvertently announced that they are less likely to walk away from a bad deal, which Mr. Trump said he would do back when nuclear talks were in their infancy.

US Sec. of State Pompeo has visited the DPRK numerous times this year

We have already seen in recent weeks, signs of a more demanding political atmosphere emanating from Pyongyang as recent statements from members of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the DPRK suggest that the DPRK may be ready and willing to restart nuclear and missile testing programs if the harsh sanctions regimes imposed by the United States do not begin to relax. Once again, whilst in the earlier days of the administration when President Trump exclaimed that he would maintain his maximum pressure campaign throughout nuclear talks, today he has far less leverage since he can no longer afford to walk away and therefore must strike a deal, or give in to the demands of the opposite side to maintain his flagship policy’s existence. This problem is unique to this administration, since it has pinned all its hopes for its future, the previous administration’s flagship policy, the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA) was not the subject of such ‘hype’ during its negotiation, giving the administration the ability to walk away if talks failed.

Benjamin Weston

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