The U.S. and South Korea made a serious mistake in canceling a long scheduled military exercise named Max Thunder this week. As the Wall Street Journal reports, the exercise was canceled after South Korea “expressed concerns” over North Korea’s threat to withdraw from the June 12 Singapore summit between President Trump and Kim Jong Un.
In my view, that threat was a bluff designed to test Trump’s willingness to play hard ball in the upcoming negotiations. Unfortunately, Trump blinked. The president’s much-vaunted willingness to “walk away” from negotiations seems to have escaped him on this occasion.
Yet the broader issue here is how this cancellation reflects on South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s strategic weakness. Having given up on any other policy approach toward Kim Jong Un other than absolute appeasement, Moon is desperate to avoid doing anything that might upset the North Koreans. In turn, the South Koreans are increasingly separated from the U.S. and the ability of both allies to put on a united front is now very much in doubt. Be under no illusions, North Korea and China will take advantage of this separation.
This week’s antics hardly provide a solid foundation for the art of the deal in Singapore.
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