by Nicholas Mele
After his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, President Trump announced on Twitter: “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.” Very few people agree that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or North Korea, no longer poses a nuclear threat. There is understandable confusion about what actually happened in Singapore on June 12, 2018.
Coincidentally, a conference in Hiroshima, Japan, drew faith-based peace workers from Japan, Korea, the U.S. and other countries and opened with a prayer service for the Korean Peninsula on the evening of June 12. All were hopeful that Trump’s meeting with Kim would have a positive impact on the rapprochement between the two Koreas initiated well before the Trump-Kim summit. As the few additional details emerged over the following night and day, the Korean conference participants voiced both satisfaction and some concern. The president’s announcement that there would be no more military exercises on the Korean Peninsula seemed like an innovative way to begin reducing tensions in the region and a gesture toward North Korea’s long-standing fear of U.S. aggression. The lack, however, of concrete steps to realize the goals articulated by Kim and Trump in their final statement concerns many.
If real progress results from the Singapore meetings it will come from the affirmation of and support for the progress made by the two Korean heads of state in meetings held in late April and late May. The April 27 Panmunjom Declaration committed the two Koreas to four goals including the establishment of a structure of peace on the Korea peninsula and the denuclearization of the peninsula, and laid out concrete steps to achieve each goal. The Kim-Trump final statement laid out four goals as well, three of them parallel to the goals articulated earlier by the two Korean leaders. The Singapore Summit therefore looks to Korean observers like confirmation and affirmation of U.S. support for the agreements made by South Korean President Moon Jae In and North Korea’s Kim. Seen from this perspective, the Singapore Summit Statement amounts to a U.S.-commitment to work with the two Koreas to achieve the goals that Kim and Moon announced in April.
President Trump’s meeting looks like a rare instance of the U.S. playing a constructive supporting role in two other nations’ movement from tense preparedness for war to the (gradual) establishment of peaceful collaboration. Although previous efforts by the leaders of the two Koreas have eventually failed, each attempt has built upon the previous ones. When both sides ceased broadcasting propaganda across the Demilitarized Zone recently, they were nodding to a prior attempt to reduce tensions. When they met on the South Korean side of the Panmunjom Joint Security Area, observers noted two steps forward: the North-South summit was held on South Korean territory for the first time, and the leaders met not once but twice. Similarly, the U.S. has temporarily suspended military exercises in the past, but President Trump implied a permanent cessation of military exerises. Should the U.S. continue to follow Moon’s lead, the Singapore meeting may indeed be a major breakthrough.