Security and Foreign Policy

A Spectacle in Pyongyang but can the U.S Follow It Up?

Scenes of Kim Jong-Un and Moon Jae-In riding along the streets of Pyongyang together in a limousine waving to the enthusiastic crowd, who held a united Korea flag screaming “one Korea,” have flooded the internet. Andy Laub takes a look at whether the United States can follow it up with substantial action.


The Inter-Korean summit started off as a spectacle, with a rare visit from a South Korean President to the North Korean capital. President Moon Jae-In along with his wife were greeted on the tarmac of the airport by North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un and his wife; the two warmly embraced just like the past two times. Scenes of the two riding along the streets of Pyongyang together in a limousine waving to the enthusiastic crowds, who held a united Korea flag screaming “one Korea,” have flooded the internet. In a joint statement concluding the summit, both leaders agreed to tamp down hostilities between the two Korea’s through more economic cooperation like finishing the construction of an inter-Korean railroad. Mr. Kim also promised to allow international inspectors in for the destruction of the infamous Yongbyon missile and nuclear facility. Furthermore, both the DPRK and ROK militaries came to an agreement setting stronger parameters for where each other’s militaries can and cannot operate, including a no fly zone, opening for the first time a direct line of communication of military channels perhaps where the biggest threat has always been. Kim Jong-Un also agreed that he would come visit Seoul soon, perhaps before the end of the year. The two leaders agreed to make a joint bid for the 2032 Olympics as well as continued assurances of an eventual peace treaty ending the Korean War from 1953.

There’s no question President Moon and Kim Jong-Un got what they hoped for out of this summit, both in-terms of publicity, especially a propaganda coup for Mr. Kim, but perhaps a genuine improvement in Inter-Korean relations; only time will tell if real progress will be made. The only outlier at this point is the United States as Kim Jong-Un has used occasions such as this summit to continue to drive a wedge in the US-ROK alliance, which threatens him less but also brings both Korea’s closer together.

As the Inter-Korean summit started this week, even as Kim Jong-Un praised his June Singapore meeting with President Trump, North Korean state media released a statement suggesting it was the United States’ fault for stalling nuclear negotiations. Nuclear negotiations were a big part of the inter-Korean summit for President Moon to help get negotiations get back on track. He is expected to brief President Trump on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly as talks of a second Trump-Kim summit continue. President Trump was quick as always quick to take credit for the success of the inter-Korean summit, even though it had nothing to do with him. The US Commander-in-Chief tweeted: “North Korea recommits to denuclearization – we’ve come a long way.”

Even though in many ways the inter-Korean summit was a success there was still nothing concrete when it comes to the diplomatic process towards denuclearization. Much like before,  benchmarks still need to be setup regarding the time period after which they will continue to destroy their nuclear stockpile, a process that can and needs to be internationally verified. To make it even more complicated there is the issue of a peace treaty ending the Korean War, which is very important to the two Koreas. But it is a little bit more complicated from the U.S point of view when it comes to recognizing North Korea as a nuclear weapons state simultaneously jeopardizing the American presence in Northeast Asia. Dealing with a Korean Peace treaty for the United States is like playing house of cards, one wrong move and the house collapses. The tone coming out of the inter-Korean summit especially from the North Koreans was essentially that we have done our part now the United States needs to step up and reciprocate. Most likely signaling both the easing of sanctions and steps towards a peace treaty; should we fail to do so, we can continue expect derogatory rhetoric from the North Koreans on impeding on the peace process.

Signs to look for in the short-term, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo chairing the Security Council session of the DPRK issue, is to see what type of language he uses, particularly on the specifics of denuclearization. Thus far, even with all the fanfare, not once has the Trump administration offered any type of specific processes, which may indicate that they are really ready handle such a complicated issue. With the President’s political troubles at home, he is going to be eager to try and make this look like quick wins; the problem being is that there are no quick wins when it comes to North Korea, a fact Kim Jong-Un is well aware of and one he will not shy away from exploiting. The initial demand from the administration that they disarm all at once immediately is a complete non-starter for North Korea. A much more substantive and in-depth approach is needed. In any situation, success cannot be denied for the inter-Korean summit. Many Korean War veterans on both sides of the peninsula never thought they would witness their two leaders marching together in their lifetimes. But with the calls for unification growing louder, it is time for the United States to step up and come up with a new concrete policy on nuclear negotiations with North Korea.

Andy Laub is the Director for Partnerships and North Korea Analyst at Political Insights. He also serves as the International Chapters Director for Young Professionals in Foreign Policy. Andy received his Master of Science in Global Affairs from New York University.

Please note that opinions expressed in this article are solely those of our contributors, not of Political Insights, which takes no institutional positions.

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