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What Happened at the US North Korea Summit
Brief #43—Foreign Policy

On Tuesday June 15, President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un broke a history of isolation by being the first leaders of their respective countries to ever meet in person. A longtime goal of Kim’s predecessors, few imagined this event taking place, especially considering Trump’s frequent use of his Twitter account to call for the destruction of North Korea throughout his presidency. Nevertheless, Trump actually managed to surprise some allies with the concessions he provided to the North Korean dictator.

The Summit, held in Singapore, consisted of a one-on-one meeting with interpreters, followed by a larger meeting and working lunch with aides, and produced a signed joint statement declaring a set of vague goals for the two sides. North Korea would advance towards denuclearization of the Korean peninsula in return for assurances of security from the United States. Trump, without the apparent knowledge of US military officials or the South Korean government, announced the halting of “very provocative” war games, which are held annually on the Korean border in cooperation with South Korean troops.

North Korea, had announced the suspension of Nuclear testing and destroyed a testing site in Punggye-ri in the lead up to the summit. Trump has said that sanctions would remain in place, but that he expected Kim to move “very quickly” on the dismantling of his nuclear arsenal. He also claimed that after the statement was signed, he managed to convince Kim Jong Un to destroy an additional missile-engine testing site. “Follow-on negotiations” between Pompeo and a North Korean official have been announced for the earliest possible date, in the interest of implementing the outcomes of the joint statement. While South Korean military officials expressed confusion at the sudden cancellation of military exercises, President Moon Jae-in called the Summit “a historic event that has helped break down the last remaining Cold War legacy on earth”. Chairman Kim announced that “We’ve decided to leave the past behind… The world will see major changes”. Trump has stated that he is “absolutely” willing to invite Kim to the White House.

Of course, even in the face of a historic diplomatic event, Trump couldn’t contain who he really is: an elderly man solely experienced in pageantry.  “I said, ‘Boy, look at that view”, Trump told reporters referring to a photo of the North Korean capital of Pyongyang , “Wouldn’t that make a great condo?”. He also presented Kim with a strange video, falsely attributed to “Destiny Pictures”, consisting of shots of Sylvester Stallone, bumper cars, and nuclear warfare.

Policy Analysis

Much of the controversy surrounding the Summit had been due to the vagueness of the assurances provided by North Korea. Denuclearization has been a stated goal of the North Korean government before, with little to show for it. Trump didn’t offer any evidence of concrete guidelines for how denuclearization will be monitored. International inspectors will have a hard time finding evidence of rule-breaking activity when any North Korean who speaks with them can be whisked off to prison. Trump also did not ask for the advancement of human rights within the country as a precondition for the lifting of sanctions.

However, much of the reaction to the Summit has bypassed this critical assessment of the progress made, and wandered into pro-war hysterics. Pundits on traditionally liberal outlets have expressed disgust at minor ornamental insults, such as the American flag being held beside the North Korean flag, or even Trump simply meeting Kim Jong-un as an equal. Some also suggested that the entire concept of demilitarization in the region is simply a handout to Russia. This response recalls Fox news’ reaction to Obama’s diplomatic behavior during his administration, and appears in bad faith when similar abusers of human rights such as Mohammad bin Salman Saudi Arabia are fawned over without critique by the American media and government.

These pundits, along with the American government, have relied on force alone to deal with the issue of North Korea since its inception, and have failed miserably thus far. 81% of South Koreans, the most ignored demographic in these discussions, supported the Summit beforehand. That’s because the people of Korea, on both sides of the border, are tired of this tension. There is no desire by the North Korean government to wage a war of conquest across Asia, or somehow extend themselves into a war with the largest military in the world. What they want is security, to hold onto power for as long as possible. For now it is acceptable that the assurances we have gained from them are vague, because the ball is in our court. Since the Korean War, during which we destroyed essentially every town in the country, the people of North Korea have known nothing but brutality from the United States. It is no wonder the people are afraid to revolt against what they believe is the only bulwark against an empire of terror. It shouldn’t be any more surprising that the North Korean government sees its only salvation to be the development of the one weapon we cannot ignore. If we provide a sense of safety for the North Korean regime, they will have no need for their expensive defenses. If we return to aggression, as the unholy alliance of John Bolton and MSNBC seem to want, we will only be ignoring the people of Korea in return for a proven strategy of failure.

Engagement Resources

  • Read the Joint Statement: Here is the joint statement produced by the summit, which outlines the goals of each side.
  • Learn More About the Korean Peace Movement Through Women Cross DMZ: Women Cross DMZ is a coalition of activists from around the world, including both North and South Korea, who are calling for a peaceful solution to the Korean conflict. They are organizing a protest on the DMZ later this month in partnership with the Nobel Women’s Initiative. You can learn more on their website.

This Brief was compiled by Colin Shanley. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this Brief please contact Colin@usresistnews.org.

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