Japan Institute for National Fundamentals

Speaking out

Yasushi Tomiyama

【#522】Trump’s “Money First” Is Problematic

Yasushi Tomiyama / 2018.06.20 (Wed)

June 18, 2018

     The agreement at the first ever summit between the United States and North Korea in Singapore on June 12 is too vague to lead us to become confident that North Korea will really dismantle nuclear bombs and missiles or that the Northeast Asian situation will be stabilized. We must wait for follow-on negotiations between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his North Korean counterpart. Apart from the assessment of the summit, however, I felt uncomfortable with U.S. President Donald Trump’s “Money First” approach under which he suspended joint U.S.-South Korea military drills that have deterred North Korean military activities, insisting the suspension would “save money.”

China may be gloating
     President Trump’s commitment to provide “security guarantees” to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un is interpreted differently. Does the commitment guarantee the survival of the present Pyongyang regime or simply indicate a U.S. moratorium on any immediate military action on North Korea? The two leaders’ joint statement also fails to clarify whether a “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” would mean not only North Korea’s dismantlement of nuclear weapons but also a Pyongyang-requested limit on U.S. nuclear deterrence.
     While the Trump-Kim agreement was left vague, President Trump offered to suspend joint U.S.-South Korea drills while Washington is negotiating the denuclearization with Pyongyang. Trump also said he would like to withdraw U.S. forces from South Korea in the future.
     China must have a gloat over the Washington-Pyongyang agreement as it apparently paved the way for Northeast Asia to change in favor of China. First, American military presence in Northeast Asia will decline if the United States considers withdrawing or reducing its forces in South Korea in addition to an increasingly remote possibility of U.S. military attack on North Korea and the decision to suspend joint U.S.-South Korea drills. Second, if the security guarantee means the present Pyongyang regime’s survival, North Korea may not only remain a buffer zone between China and South Korea and but also become a client state that depends heavily on China politically, economically and in terms of national security. Such international environment would be ideal for China to reduce the United States’ influence in Asia and develop a China-led order in the region.

Suspending joint drills to “save money”
     The problem is the suspension of joint U.S.-South Korea military drills. According to an official North Korean report, President Trump immediately decided on the suspension as he was requested by Mr. Kim to stop hostile military actions. It was disturbing that Trump accepted Pyongyang’s description of joint U.S.-South Korea drills as “provocative.” However, the fact that Trump cited massive costs as the top reason for suspending the drills in a press conference should come under fire for demonstrating his mercantilist policy while lacking a national strategy.
     In the face of a worrisome major change in the Northeast Asian situation, Japan has no choice but to make effort to enhance its national defense. At the same time, Japan will be required to undertake a process to substantiate quadrilateral cooperation between the major Indo-Pacific democracies of Japan, the United States, Australia and India to keep the United States in Asia and to check China’s growing influence.

Yasushi Tomiyama is Senior Fellow and Planning Committee Member at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals.