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‘Only Trump could go to North Korea’
The Korean War was fought from June 1950 to July 1953. It ended in a stalemate, with an armistice agreement that divided the peninsula into two countries and committed the United States into maintaining an active military presence to help defend the democratic and prosperous southern half. But now, after more than half a century of tensions and diplomatic stagnation, an opportunity to resolve this remnant of the Cold War is finally starting to take shape.
President Trump shocked the world two weeks ago when he accepted an invitation to meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. It’s a complete turnabout after months of verbal tit-for-tats exchanged by the two leaders and the possibility of a renewed war. But this sudden rapprochement was the result of a slight thaw in relations between the Koreas that started at the Winter Olympics and was followed soon after by bilateral talks. In fact, it was the South Korean national security adviser who delivered the invitation to Trump while briefing him on the recent visit with the North Korean leader in Pyongyang. While there’s no assurance that this meeting will take place, the varying agendas involved will undoubtedly make any forthcoming negotiations a complex endeavour.
Despite his naivety in the fine art of international diplomacy, President Trump is right about one thing–America’s strategy of “strategic patience” hasn’t worked. The policy that promoting democracy would slowly weaken and eventually destabilise totalitarian regimes is, more often not that not, wishful thinking. After all, the United States didn’t triumph over the Soviet Union as much as the Soviet Union collapsed. If it could happen to them, it was assumed that it would happen to other communist states as well.
But North Korea isn’t a “workers’ paradise” but a nation of slaves in service to the Kim family and a small circle of military and political elites. And the decades of isolation only succeeded in allowing the totalitarian regime to tighten its grip. However, as similar regimes toppled around the world in recent decades, the Kim dynasty sought to develop a nuclear weapons programme as a deterrent against outside intervention, especially from the Americas. Now that they have such capabilities, the question is–what’s the price to give them up?
That being said, North Korea’s timing in offering this proposal puts them in an advantageous position. They’ve had a year to size up the Trump presidency. His White House appears chaotic, with a revolving door of advisers and cabinet members. And the continuing investigation into the suspicion of collusion with Russia casts a shadow over its legitimacy. Along with these internal distractions is the fact that the US is also missing key members of its negotiations team: they have yet to appoint an ambassador to South Korea and their chief State Department adviser on North Korean policy recently retired.
The North Koreans may also be aware of President Trump’s desperate desire to “make a deal”–any deal–even if it ends up leaving America’s traditional allies out in the cold for the sake of making himself look good. However, it would be foolhardy to underestimate Donald Trump. In a twisted way, his bombastic personality is the perfect counter to Kim Jong Un’s image. The juvenile retort that “mine is bigger than yours”, while distasteful and beneath the manner befit an American president, has inadvertently shown that the repeated threats of war from the “Dear Leader” are nothing but hot air.
Ultimately, both Korea’s want the same things–survival and security. The Kim regime may be willing to give up their WMDs for the guarantee that they are left alone. The South, in turn, might be willing to agree to such an arrangement, but the challenge for them is whether their neighbour can be trusted. The North, however, has made the first move, so it’s left to be seen if the Americans will reciprocate. Perhaps in the same way that, “Only Nixon could go to China,” maybe only a man like Donald Trump could succeed in going to North Korea.
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