Much has been made of President Donald Trump’s decision to walk away from the Hanoi Summit without a deal towards denuclearization. But when I heard the news, I took a sigh of relief. Not that I wouldn’t have loved to hear about a deal leading to a denuclearized Korean peninsula, but that was never going to happen.
The fear for many US allies was that Trump was going to make some major concessions to for the semblance of progress, when the North has taken no steps towards denuclearization since their first summit. Yet, Trump was so in need for a political win, that many people feared that he would agree to almost anything, just to come back with a deal.
Instead, Trump took the responsible road, and left without an agreement. This was far from a guaranteed outcome going into the summit, even if the world knew that North Korea was never going to give up their nuclear arsenal. Still Trump choose to once again cancel the large-scale war games between the United States and South Korea, because it cost “hundreds of millions of dollars”.
That’s despite the fact that the Pentagon stated that similar exercises have cost about 11 million dollars in the past. Trump has not provided any sources for his “hundreds of millions of dollars” reference. Of course, this is coming from some who thinks war games are “fun and nice”. Something only someone who has never had to complete their day job in MOPP 4 would say.
Trump goes onto say that he doesn’t think war games aren’t necessary, but he doesn’t say they are necessary either. It’s one of those things only Trump himself can articulate:
“And I was telling the generals, I said, ‘Look, exercises is fun and it’s nice and they play the war games, and I’m not saying it’s not necessary because, on some levels, it is. But on other levels, it’s not.’”
Ret. Navy Vice Adm. Robert Murrett had this to say about the repeated cancellation of the joint exercises “It’s very serious because I think our capability with respect to the Korean Peninsula is in the process of atrophying at all the levels”.
But I guess that’s just one of those things that “isn’t necessary”. However, it is important to be able to enter any negotiations from a position of strength, something Trump should be familiar with as the author of “The Art of the Deal”.
And what those war games provides is the ability to negotiate from that position of strength, while ensuring that we are able to defend ourselves if diplomacy fails. Those war games aren’t “fun and nice”, they’re what ensures our service members have the capabilities to defeat any adversaries on the battle field. Giving them up will only hurt our long-term negotiations.