While the upcoming summit between the United States and North Korea will mark a historic moment, it has generated mixed reactions among experts in South Korea and the United States. President Donald Trump, on March 8, agreed to have a meeting with Kim Jong-Un, the leader of North Korea by the end of May, possibly marking the start of more diplomatic relationships between the two countries. The summit would be an unprecedented and notable event in diplomatic history if it happens.
Especially for South Korean President Moon Jae-In (who has been striving to generate conversation between the two Koreas and the United States), the proposed meeting with his North Korean and American counterparts would signal the beginning of a potentially fruitful initiative to bring peace to the Korean peninsula. Joseph Yoon, an American diplomat and a proponent of President Trump’s decision to set up more advanced diplomatic negotiations, commented that talks could ease the tension between the three countries that was built up when North Korea tested its ballistic missiles before the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. In the optimal scenario, Pres. Trump and Kim may even reach some agreements, which could pave the way to denuclearization of the Korean peninsula (a desirable outcome for the United States).
Robert Fouser, a columnist for The Korea Herald, commented that the proposed summit may work to the advantage of North Korea due to the possibility of lifting or softening the crippling economic sanctions that were placed on North Korea by the United States and its allies. Kim Jong-Un may not want to agree to certain changes that President Trump or President Moon demand, but now that he has decided to change, Kim will certainly want to use the negotiations to develop North Korea’s economy by cooperating with the United States and South Korea in order to encourage the former to lift its sanctions.
If we look at this deal closely, we can see that it favors the North Koreans more than it does for the United States and South Korea; this fact brings rise to many voices of concern. Nathan Gardels, Editor-in-chief of The WorldPost (a branch of The Washington Post), wrote that “talk of denuclearization in the same breath as regime change is certainly a non-starter for Kim.” In other words, there will be some disconnection between the expectations of the United States and North Korea: while the goal of the United States is to make North Korea give up its nuclear weaponry, the latter will balk at giving them up in order to use them as diplomatic leverage against the world and maintain the current regime.
Michael Auslin from Foreign Policy tells us that North Korea is, in fact, not the most reliable party to negotiate with, saying that it has pulled out of talks in the past. Therefore, he states, there is no reason to believe that these talks will be more successful than those attempted in the past. Former United States Defense Secretary William Perry said that “it would be a fundamental error to believe that we can reliably verify a treaty by which North Korea agrees to dismantle all of its nuclear weapons and not build more.”
While we can rejoice with the fact that North Korea has finally agreed to talk after years of making threats that kept the world on edge, we should still take caution. If orchestrated properly, the upcoming summit could be a great success. However, I doubt that North Korea will abandon its nuclear weapons programs due to its domestic and international importance. On the international stage, Kim seeks to use his nuclear weapons as bargaining chips that he taunts the United States and its allies with in order to engage in negotiations so that he can attempt to loosen the sanctions placed on his country, make the U.S. Armed Forces pull out of the Korean Peninsula, and/or achieve some other goal by giving up other assets but withholding those nuclear weapons. In his country, Kim has built the image of himself and his government on their nuclear program; giving up nuclear weapons will greatly diminish the credibility and reputation of the dictatorship in the eyes of the public and could even cause a regime change. After all, Kim Jong-Un is a dictator, and like all of the dictators the world has seen, his primary goal is to stay in power.
-William Cho (’21)
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