End To The Korean War?

Ken AshfordNorth KoreaLeave a Comment

No matter your political persuasion, we all woke up to good news this morning.

The leaders of North and South Korea agreed on Friday to work to remove all nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula and, within the year, pursue talks with the United States to declare an official end to the Korean War, which ravaged the peninsula from 1950 to 1953.

At a historic summit meeting, the first time a North Korean leader had ever set foot in the South, the leaders vowed to rid the divided Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons and negotiate a treaty to replace the truce that has kept an uneasy peace for more than six decades. A peace treaty has been one of the incentives North Korea has demanded in return for bargaining away its nuclear weapons.

Of course, all of the caveats apply. There is still a long way to go for this advancement to come to fruition. But beyond being good news for both Democrats and Republicans, the people who have the most cause to celebrate are those who live on the Korean peninsula—especially in the North where even military officers are apparently suffering from starvation.

Trump supporters (and soon, probably Trump himself) are taking a victory lap, as if Trump brought this about.  But nope:

Anyone who lived through the break-up of the Soviet Union is probably experiencing a healthy dose of déjà vu. Ronald Reagan spoke some tough words about the USSR (while continuing to negotiate nuclear arms agreements with his counterparts) and during the administration of his successor, George H.W. Bush, the Soviet Union dissolved and the Berlin Wall fell. The mythology took hold almost immediately in this country that Reagan beat the Soviets and won the Cold War. None of that takes into consideration the roll that involvement in Afghanistan took on our opponent, the role of President Mikhail Gorbachev, or the challenges posed by the Baltic states.

I can’t speak to the whole of U.S. history, but at least as long as I’ve been alive, most citizens have made the mistake of assuming that our country is the sole actor for good on the planet. We rarely take account of how foreign affairs are impacted by the people and leaders of other countries. That is one of the ways that “American exceptionalism” plays out. It explains why so few people ever understood how partnership was at the root of Barack Obama’s foreign policy. He was willing to act and take leadership, but he knew that success came from working in partnership with our allies, and even sometimes our opponents.

It is probably no coincidence that all this is happening considering that North Korea’s nuclear missile test site has collapsed.  And the cost of it is probably damaging the population (despite all outward appearances). It is hard to point to something that Trump actually did to bring this along, other than bluster.

The credit should go to South Korea for the change.

Two presidents prior to Moon Jae-in, Lee Myung-bak (2008-2013) took a hard-line approach to North Korea. The next president, Park Geun-hye (2013-2017), promised engagement with the North, a strategy that ended in early 2016 following missile and nuclear tests.

But in his inauguration speech, Mr Moon said he would “do everything I can to build peace on the Korean peninsula”. This is a return to the Sunshine Policy of Presidents Kim Dae-Jung (1999-2003) and Roh Moo-Hyun (2003-2008), who were the only other two South Korean presidents to meet North Korean leadership – during the Inter-Korean Summits of 2000 and 2007. Kim Dae-jung won a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.

“More credit should go to the South Koreans, because they actually made sure to have the North Koreans come to the Olympics and that was organised very very quickly,” said senior lecturer Dr Virginie Grzelczyk, of Aston University. “The invitation to have the North Korean delegation and Kim Jong-un’s sister…has been really critical to organise the summit that we are going to see at the end of the week.”

In any event, good news is good news.