North and South Korea met in what is being called a “historic” effort to broker peace between the two nations. “The South and the North both recognize the need to end the current armistice regime and build a permanent peace regime,” read a “peace declaration” signed by leaders of both nations. Except those leaders were Kim Jong-il and President Roh Moo-hyun, and the date was October 2007. After the meeting, the South Korean leader stated “There is no longer going to be any war. The North will no longer attempt unification by force, and at the same time we will not do any harm to the North.” But actually, that was said by President Kim Dae-jung after the “historic” summit of 2000 between the two countries. I’m quite certain, though, that this time is different, and they really mean it.
The really interesting thing is that North Korea managed this time to take any discussion of human rights off the table for peace discussions before they even got started. Presumably South Korea, and America, were fine with that because instead, Kim Jong Un offered to cease North Korea’s nuclear testing program, garnering huge praise from all corners.
Yet now we get word that according to geologists, it seems that North Korea’s last nuclear test actually collapsed the mountain under which the testing site lay, meaning that technically they are unable to continue their testing program anyway. Without tipping his hand, Kim worked to leverage this otherwise disastrous event to his best advantage in the upcoming peace talks.
Of course, many in the conservative media have been spiking the proverbial football after Kim made his announcement, giving President Trump all of the credit for getting Kim to agree to end the testing, but it now seems that acclamation may have been premature. Especially so in light of the fact that Kim only agreed to stop testing, and never said that he would stop or even slow down his production of weapons, nor that he would give up any existing weapons. What was really accomplished here worth celebrating? So far, not much.
As Nicholas Eberstadt put it,
“The problem is that North Korea can walk away from its peace promises at any time. And when it eventually does, it will be able to blame whomever it wishes for this tragic result – potentially polarizing politics in South Korea, igniting tensions in Seoul’s alliance with Washington or fracturing the loose coalition of governments that rallied around sanctions against it. In the meantime, Pyongyang will hold the other parties hostage to the fear that if any of its new demands aren’t met, it will quit the peace process.”
The players may be different this time, but so far there is no reason to believe that the outcome will be any different that what has occurred time and time again between the two Koreas over the many years since the conflict between the two first erupted into war in 1950. As Trump himself tweeted, “only time will tell” if peace is finally and truly coming to the Korean peninsula.