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‘De-nuking’ in Trump-land: Where There’s a Will There’s a Way

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When US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet President/Premier Mikhail Gorbachev met during the famous Reykjavik Summit in 1986, both leaders had a strong desire to negotiate the elimination or reduction of nuclear weapons. Reagan was originally a staunch critic of arms control. It is said that he had a change of heart, however, after watching the film The Day After, which depicts a nuclear attack on US soil, and was swayed by US public opinion that was largely opposed to nuclear weapons and their use. He wanted, at certain times, to avoid mutually assured destruction with the Soviet Union, and other times to rid the world entirely of nuclear weapons. He eventually engaged Gorbachev directly to accomplish these security goals. Although originally dismissed by US officials as “propaganda,” Gorbachev sought the complete elimination of all nuclear weapons the world over and proposed a plan to accomplish this by the year 2000.

The process was typical of arms control agreements, which require a significant amount of sustained, high-level political will. Political will drives both drives all parties to come to the negotiation table (normally prepared with proposals or pre-negotiated texts) and sustains negotiations during their inevitably challenging periods to produce a final agreement. Whether US President Donald Trump and DPRK Chairman Kim Jung Un’s Singapore Summit will produce any tangible results hinges on this factor. Thus far, the summit has none of the hallmarks of previous arms control negotiations that succeeded, in part, due to this political will.

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