Three Signficant Developments from the U.S./North Korea Summit By Jun Kwon and Sung Jang
After several twists and turns, the Trump-Kim summit finally took place in Singapore. The summit was comparable with Nixon-Mao meeting in 1972 and Reagan-Gorbachev in 1985 in terms of its significance and media attention. It is no exaggeration to say that the meeting was meaningful, constructive, and historic given the circumstances that the relationship between the United States and North Korea has had 70 years of troubles plagued with war, animosity, and nuclear confrontation.
Joint Statement signed both leaders produced no details about what denuclearization of North Korea might look like. However, the meeting boded well for the future as it ushered in a paradigm change from pressure and military actions to dialogue and diplomacy to solve the North Korean nuclear conundrum.
Aside from the efforts made by President of South Korea Moon Jae-in, one should credit President Trump for this diplomatic skills in securing these talks with North Korea. Unlike the previous U.S. Presidents, Trump’s approach to foreign policy and diplomacy is off-script and improvisational at times allowing for much more flexible playing field when it comes to negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea.
Furthermore, President Trump’s unique style of leadership and desire to establish his own legacy on North Korea have most likely pushed him to open dialogue with North Korea. It should also be noted that Donald Trump’s willingness to open dialogue with North Korea could also be due to the upcoming prospect of a mid-term election in November and his re-election in 2020.
In the agreement signed by both leaders, there are three important points that are considered major achievements. Firstly, North Korea and the U.S. have agreed “to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.” This is a tremendous step forward toward building of mutual confidence and lasting peace of the Korean Peninsula finally escaping from the Cold war mentality of hostility and tension.
The official ending of the Korean War was not specified in the statement. Yet both leaders seemed to have shared that the commitment to ending the Korean War is the first step necessary towards a rapport between the U.S., North Korea, and South Korea permanently. It might depends on how expeditiously follow-up working level negotiations are proceeded, but the official end of the Korean War could be materialized as early as July 27th to mark 65th anniversary of the Armistice agreement.
Secondly, North Korea has reiterated its commitments to “complete denuclearization.” While there is little clarity whether the definitions and processes of denuclearization have been agreed upon by the two leaders, there is nevertheless a displayed political will on both sides to reach an agreement over this issue. Considering Trump’s toned down rhetoric over the issue of nuclear dismantlement, it is likely that the denuclearization process will be a mix between the traditional Comprehensive Verifiable Irreversible Dismantlement (CVID) and the Step-by-Step Action-for-Action.
Thirdly, both states have agreed to normalize relations in the long term. This would be the final step in the rapprochement between North Korea and the U.S. This is the biggest goal that North Korea has been trying to achieve as normalization with the U.S. would make North Korea a normal state being integrated into liberal global economic order rather than a pariah state in the international community.
At the news conference after the signing of the joint statement, President Trump has stated that he is willing to suspend joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises. He has stated that it would be “inappropriate” to have “war games” considering the circumstances of the negotiations that are going on. Trump’s tone has been remarkably softer than before, indicating that he has already implemented the stipulations in the joint statement in regards to providing North Korea with security guarantee. When a reporter asked him about the possibility of military action should North Korea renege on this deal, Trump replied by saying that he did not want to be “threatening”. This is a departure from his “fire and fury” comment in the past.
In return, it is very likely that North Korea will continue its public displays of goodwill to the world in regards to denuclearization. It is very possible that soon after, North Korea will continue to destroy long-range missile engine test sites and nuclear test sites. It is also likely that North Korea will continue to follow up negotiations with the U.S. and South Korea over further denuclearization. What would make fruits of this summit meaningful and successful relies on the U.S.’s continued effort to adopt a softer stance and North Korea sincerely taking actions to show that it is committed to denuclearization.
It is important to note that the summit is the first step in a long process to denuclearize North Korea. The North Korean issue is one that has been ongoing for 70 years with little breakthrough. It is likely that there would be bumps along the way to denuclearization of North Korea and permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula.
The biggest challenge on all sides of this would be still political will to build mutual confidence through communication and understanding. The first step is always the hardest and Rome was not built in a day. It is hoped that this summit could lay the cornerstone of denuclearization of North Korea, lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula, and possibly Korean unification in the long-run.
Jun Kwon is Chair of International Studies and Assistant Professor of Government at Utica College. Sung Jang is government student at Utica College.