The landmark June 12 summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un renewed hopes of a possible new era of peace in the long-standing conflict between their respective countries. For many, the hope was that the meeting would prove to be a fruitful one, and go a long way to a potential treaty with North Korea and the dismantlement of their nuclear weapons.
A month and a half has passed, however, and nothing has changed. Reports have suggested that despite its pledge to reduce armaments, North Korea is continuing to update major nuclear facilities. Moreover, several follow-up meetings have been cancelled, or postponed indefinitely.
To some, Kim Jong Un’s actions seem to be only a realization of experts’ fears that the summit was nothing more than a diplomatic overture. Even President Trump, who continues to laud the summit and the ongoing negotiations with North Korea on Twitter, has been reported to be secretly frustrated about the lack of progress with the country. For all the world, it seems as if North Korea has thoroughly humiliated the United States – and have gotten away with it.
It would be unfair to claim that the summit was unsuccessful. For one, state propaganda targeting the U.S. has almost entirely disappeared in North Korea, being replaced by propaganda lauding Kim Jong Un’s actions to improve the country’s relationship with its long-time enemy.
This fact is remarkable in and of itself. North Korea has willingly changed its image, both to the world and its citizens. Add this concession to its public commitment to denuclearization, and it’s clear that the Trump-Kim summit has accomplished much more than many experts would have you think.
With this in mind, it’s worth going back to North Korea’s goals for its nuclear program. The country has been developing weapons in order to deter invasion from the United States, which it has long treated as its enemy. Now that North Korea, too, has nuclear weapons of its own, the country is finally on equal footing with the United States and can thus use its nuclear program as leverage in any talks.
Of course, to believe that North Korea would give up their nuclear weapons so easily is wishful thinking. National Security Advisor John Bolton has oft mentioned the “Libya model” as a potential path for North Korean denuclearization to take. However, when Libya gave up its nuclear program in the early 2000s, the country committed to a path that led to Colonel Gaddafi’s deposal by a NATO-led coalition less than a decade later – a path that has become a sticking point in U.S.-North Korean talks.
Kim Jong Un, it is worth reminding, does not want war. A conflict between North Korea and the United States would destroy the former. What Kim wants, rather, is a prosperous North Korea impervious to attack from any country, most prominently from America. And now, he has the capability to do so through his nuclear weapons.
Does this mean that Kim will never denuclearize? Not necessarily. It just involves the right kind of deal, to put it in Trumpian terms. A deal that satisfies Kim’s wants.
The Trump-Kim summit, despite its flaws, has set the stage for future talks between the two countries. It’s all a matter of coming to the right deal.
Brandon Kim, Grade 10
Culver City High School