Trump to KORUS: Drop dead

May 24, 2016 7:00 AM

The last time I checked in on Donald Trump, he was threatening to inflict on China “a depression the likes of which you have never seen” if it didn’t bring North Korea to heel. I had thought that the Donald was content with blocking future trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but apparently not: in an interview last week, one of his top advisors signaled that he is ready to abrogate all existing US free trade agreements.

In an interview with Yonhap, Walid Phares, who Trump identified as one of his five foreign policy advisors, stated that Trump may wish to "go back to ground zero" on all FTAs the U.S. has signed so far, including the Korea-U.S. (KORUS) FTA. The problem is that one cannot renegotiate these agreements on the fly: technically such renegotiations must be preceded by a 180-day notice of termination after which new negotiations can start. 

I suppose that a Trump Administration could try to circumvent this requirement by requesting “informal” consultations, on the expectation that its trade partners, in this instance, South Korea, would not call its bluff. But this is a dangerous game. And if the US and its partners, including South Korea, proceeded to formal renegotiations, there is no guarantee that they would reach a new agreement, or that a new agreement would be ratified by the relevant legislatures. It goes without saying that it took four years to get the existing KORUS agreement through the US Congress.

The picture that emerges is of a foreign policy that is at best naive, if not brazenly reckless.

Predictably, an unnamed South Korean official indicated that a unilateral termination of the KORUS agreement by the US would be tantamount to deep sixing the US-ROK alliance. Whether this statement should be taken at face value or is itself a negotiating stance is anyone’s guess. “’An FTA is not just a trade pact, but an agreement that closely intertwines member countries in about every aspect, including political and diplomatic aspects,’ a ranking government official said, while speaking on the condition of anonymity. ‘An attempt to nullify such an agreement simply because one does not like it anymore is quite literally the same as telling the other party that they will not see each other anymore forever,’ the official added.”

Together with statements to the effect that he wants South Korea to pay “100 percent” of the basing costs of US Forces Korea and a willingness to see South Korea and Japan develop nuclear weapons, the picture that emerges is of a foreign policy that is at best naïve, if not brazenly reckless. And if you think that I am being excessively harsh or partisan, consider the comments made by Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) on CNN: “We're not a mercenary unit. We don't run a mafia protection ring where we extort you for money or we leave," he said. "The reality is, being involved in the world is to our benefit as well. There's a reason we have troops in South Korea. There's a reason we're a member of NATO... [the US] never could have taken down the Soviet Union” without NATO. “This idea that you're either going to pay us or we're going to go home makes good politics. Right? It makes for cheering crowds, but it's dangerous, and the next generation of Americans are going to have to put on a uniform to clean up this mess.”

Comments

Mike Bassett

Respectfully speaking - If you can't convince a starving North Korean of the rationale behind your political agenda then you should perhaps consider hearing Trump out. It seems like the only folks upset with Trump are the ones who stand the most to gain from perpetuating the status quo, and it seems like they're the ones who attack him most out of fear that he knows how to end it. Just some food for thought... 

Matzo Ball

Respectfully speaking, Mike Bassett, if you genuinely think: a) that the average North Korean's opinion is recognized in the country's governance; b) that non-DPRK actors - even China - want to continue with the status quo of nuclear escalation; and c) that Trump "knows how to end it" by giving the finger to Beijing and strapping Japan/South Korea with the defense costs, your food for thought may be laced with a hallucinogen.

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Marcus Noland Senior Research Staff

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