When North and South Korean leaders met at the end of April their summit was significant in more ways than one. First, most obviously, it was an important step towards friendship and peace between the two halves of Korea. Secondly, if the North shows continued willingness to open up to the South, that brings hope to the United States and the United Nations that North Korea can finally become safer to interact with and more integrated globally. However, all of that may be in jeopardy: here is why.
South Korea, who is a democratic country and is among the top most developed economies in the world, is tasked with the heavy responsibility to mediate between North Korea and the rest of the world. Not only are the South Koreans trying to procure peace for the Korean peninsula and allow generations that have been divided by war and politics to finally reunite, they must also pave the way for the United States to approach North Korea.
Previously the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un agreed to meet with Donald Trump on June 12, the first time leaders of those two countries would meet in decades. After the two leaders exchanged some quite harsh comments about each other last summer – Trump over Twitter, Kim through North Korean state media – now the two leaders are expected to sit down and negotiate peace. Although not much is known for sure about North Korea, because they keep many things secret from the public, their recent missile tests have convinced many that they have reached the point of possessing nuclear weapons. Considering their political regime, the situation could be quite volatile, which is why the rest of the world, led by the United States, is hoping to negotiate the denuclearization of North Korea.
However, plans for the June summit itself might be in danger. Earlier this week North Korean representatives were supposed to meet with counterparts from the South to continue the peace talks that Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in agreed on during their April summit. The meeting did not happen: the North cancelled last-minute, stating that they feel threatened by a military exercise which is currently being conducted in South Korea with the help of the United States. The US has stated that this is a routine exercise that is scheduled periodically and has nothing to do with the current negotiations. Nevertheless, North Korean state media claimed that the exercise is a preparation for an invasion and war with North Korea.
What is more, the North Koreans felt that it is suspicious that the United States keeps talking about the denuclearization of their country, while at the same time working on improving its own military prowess. The Foreign Vice Minister of North Korea Kim Kye-gwan had quite a lot to say about the chief Security Advisor John Bolton. The two representatives have a history: they were members of committees in the early 00s which back then failed to achieve much between the US and DPRK. Bolton has also publicly condemned the North Korean regime in the past; he also urged the United States to attack North Korea just last year. Moreover, Bolton was instrumental in applying the “Libyan model” during Bush’s presidency: the nuclear weapons of Libya were moved to the United States, something he is likely to suggest for North Korea as well. The fact that someone like Bolton is currently a high-ranking officer of Trump’s administration who will be involved in the US policy towards DPRK does not bode well.
Kim Kye-gwan also stated that denuclearization is only an option if it is not unilateral. That means North Korea might be coming into these negotiations expecting the United States to give up their weapons. Considering the role the United States plays globally and their military involvement in other places, most recently Syria, this scenario seems very unlikely.
As of now, North Korea has stated that it is not willing to unilaterally give up their weapons, and have threatened to call off the summit if the “aggression” from the US persists. The States, however, have said that plans for the meeting are still on and the negotiations are continuing. Trump himself appeared uncertain as to what would happen. The issue is still developing, so we need to pay close attention in the coming weeks.