Beijing has considerable security and geopolitical interests at stake in the outcome and is actively trying to secure its interests via discussions in Pyongyang, Seoul, Washington, Tokyo, and Moscow.
South Korea has more at stake than almost any nation in achieving a peaceful resolution and can be expected to pursue (and in some cases demand) outcomes short of war.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would also like the situation resolved but would be less worried than Moon if military means were used to solve the matter. If the process and resolution of the situation also included a sidelining of China, that would be a bonus.
Russian President Vladimir Putin doesn't want to see a nuclear-armed North Korea— but he does have regional interests that diverge from Washington's and would no doubt be happy to see North Korea remain a thorn in America's side.
To a lesser but still meaningful extent, key European powers also have an interest in seeing this resolved peacefully and are engaged in multilateral engagement with most of the key actors. American leaders must, therefore, recognize that this situation isn't going to be solved based on the answer to any 'either/or' question.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is possibly the quintessential example of binary thinking in Washington related to the current engagement with North Korea—and exemplifies the danger of such thinking. In a Fox News interview he said to Kim, "If you try to play Trump, we're going to have a war and you'll lose," implying that if talks don't "succeed"—however success is defined—then the only recourse is war. That is a dangerously inaccurate view of the situation.
The conventional and nuclear power of the United States is significantly greater than that of North Korea. Whether Kim reaches an agreement, makes a deal and then backs out of it later, or refuses any settlement, we can deter him from using his weapons indefinitely.
I cannot more emphatically and categorically state that the worst possible outcome for America would be a war, and any attempt to use a so-called "preventive" military strike would likely start a war—and almost certainly cause severe harm to U.S. security and economic interests.
A Department of Defense report to Congress last December stated in its opening line, "North Korea's primary strategic goal is perpetual Kim family rule via the simultaneous development of its economy and nuclear weapons program."
Kim's desire to survive and economically thrive means that he—like China's Mao Tse-Tung and the Soviet Union's Joseph Stalin before him—can be deterred.
Whether Trump and Kim meet on June 12, the situation on the Korean Peninsula is not a binary "deal v. war" prospect. It is a highly complex matter, involving several other global players with differing and competing interests.
Trump should absolutely seek a comprehensive deal. Bringing peace to the peninsula is good for our allies in the region, all Koreans, and the U.S. However the overriding objective for the United States must not be obtaining some specific negotiated deal, but the prevention of war and the preservation of American security and prosperity.
Commentary by Daniel L. Davis, a senior fellow for Defense Priorities and a former Lt. Col. in the U.S. Army who retired in 2015 after 21 years, including four combat deployments. Follow him on Twitter @DanielLDavis1.
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