The rhetoric, pageantry and choreography of the meeting between President Donald Trump and Chairman Kim Jong-un, was on par with the recent royal wedding. The difference between the two events, was that one had substance, while the other was like an over-sold anti-climatic television episode.

However, in fairness, it was not a total disappointment. On the positive side of the ledger, some progress was made in terms of both process and good-faith confidence building measures.

In terms of process, it was useful that the two leaders agreed to meet and talk in person. Knowing the human opposition tends to make it a bit more difficult if you are threatening to incinerate them with nuclear fire.

Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un have entertained the planet with their spectacularly staged meet and greet in Singapore. Photo / AP
Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un have entertained the planet with their spectacularly staged meet and greet in Singapore. Photo / AP

In terms of good faith confidence building measures there were also two big achievements.


First, Trump's announcement that the United States will stop the war games with South Korea while the denuclearisation talks are ongoing and Kim maintains his own moratorium on further nuclear developments is monumental.

Stopping these war games has been an objective of North Korea for decades. In this instance, Trump has handed over more here than Kim as despite the war games often being provocative, they were never illegal under international law. The same cannot be said for North Korea's nuclear programme.

In exchange for halt in the war games, Trump has received something extra in return. That is the recovering of the human remains of fallen soldiers from the original conflict in the early 1950s. This part of the agreement includes the immediate repatriation of the fallen who have already been identified.

Given that the remains of the fallen are often collected and stored, for use as barter in diplomatic negotiations, it may be that the United States is about to receive a windfall of some of the 3000 plus personnel that have never been properly accounted for.

On the negative side of the ledger, there are two large disappointments.

The first disappointment of the meeting was that although both sides promised to "join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula" and to establish "new US-DPRK relations" they did not end the Korean War. The fragile armistice of 1953 which has left fully deployed armed forces on both sides of the 38th parallel, still facing each other, remains in place.

Trump and Kim did not sign a peace treaty to end, rather than just pause, the war that keeps North and South Korea fully divided. Here, Trump and Kim got no further than repeating the vague promises that followed the Winter Olympics. There is no timetable nor pathway on how to achieve their goal.

The second disappointment is that although it is positive that Kim has "reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula", there is no nuclear disarmament treaty, there is no inspectors, there is no pathway, and there is not even a timetable, beyond a promise for future "high level" negotiations.


Accompanying this disappointment, all of the sanctions already stacked high against North Korea remain in place.

In this regard, this meeting of 2018 was not even close to the achievements of the 1994 and 2007 agreements with North Korea, of which, both times, details and verification regimes accompanied the North Korean (broken) promises to remove their nuclear weapons.

Corresponding to the absence of real timetables and verifications, there was a silence about the elements that would be necessary for North Korea to even consider such an option, such as with the removal of the American troops, its missile shields or its nuclear umbrella.

What this all boils down to is the fact that the North Korean nuclear problem that has terrified the entire world has not, and is not even close, to being solved.

Although the tension between the two opponents appears to have calmed for the moment, and some good faith gestures have been undertaken reducing the risk of accidental war, nothing of substance has been achieved. At best, Trump and Kim have entertained the planet with some spectacularly staged talks, to agree to more talks.

• Alexander Gillespie is a professor of law at Waikato University.