The debacle of North Korea is one that has been a constant scourge amongst world leaders for generations. The communist dictatorship finds itself in the headlines on a regular basis, whether this involves their ‘Dear Leader’ executing his own uncle, or because of their increasingly regular missile tests, amongst other reasons.
The tensions between North Korea and the US seemed to reach their boiling point last August, when President Trump threatened the rogue state with ‘fire and fury’ in a tweet responding to a missile test. In return, the dictatorship threatened to sink the US island of Guam, with Trump ultimately making his feelings about his North Korean counterpart clear when referring to him as ‘rocket man’ in a conversation with South Korean President Moon.
Fast forward a year, US-North Korea relations seem to be stronger than they have been for a long time. Seemingly in a futile position last year, Kim Jong Un subsequently agreed to meet with President Trump in a landmark summit held in Singapore in June, marking the first ever bilateral meeting between the sitting leaders of the two rivals. Signing a joint statement, the two leaders agreed to security guarantees for North Korea, a desire for peaceful relations, and the reaffirmation of the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula, a feat never achieved by a previous US administration.
So what makes this round of negotiations different from the failures of the past? Trump’s unique style of diplomacy arguably acted as a catalyst to ensure progress is made. Contrasting with the Obama administration’s policy of ‘strategic patience’, Trump wasted no time in making his feelings towards the North Korean regime clear, opting to use the ‘stick’ rather than the ‘carrot’.
Trump also put to bed the age long reluctance of US administrations taking part in direct negotiations with the North Koreans as this was seen to ‘legitimise’ the regime. Whilst some may argue that this method may indeed give the dictatorship more respect than it deserves, it is ultimately a small price to pay should the Singapore agreement materialise, and the North Korean question is solved in a peaceful, diplomatic way.
Nevertheless, a few months on from the summit, the progress made has been slower than expected. Whilst there have been no missile tests since November 2017, the US administration is thought to be frustrated at rate of denuclearisation on the peninsula. This resulted the president cancelling US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s planned visit to North Korea in August, although acknowledging that he hopes to resume talks in the ‘near future’.
Does this mean the Singapore summit was nothing but an expensive photo-op? It is important not to jump to conclusions and compare this setback to the failures of the past. The two countries have, for the first time, established a solid platform of communication, and the world we live in today is different to that of recent decades.
Kim Jong Un, although not hiding his ambition to expand North Korea’s military prowess, has also expressed the desire to implement economic reforms. In order to do so, it is imperative that international economic sanctions are lifted, and this acts as an incentive for the regime to continue with negotiations. Put together with North Korean denuclearisation being one of President Trump’s highest priorities, and President Moon’s carefully crafted vision of keeping the two administrations engaged in talks, it is worth approaching this round of negotiations with more optimism than the piecemeal talks of the past.
Some question whether Trump’s style of diplomacy is indeed the right way to go about matters of international security. Indeed, others also argue that negotiating with North Korea achieves nothing but giving the rogue state a more prominent position on the world stage, playing into their gameplan. It would nonetheless be foolish to dismiss the progress made on the ground of ‘values’. Talks with North Korea have so far failed, and if it takes the threat of ‘fire and fury’ or giving Kim Jong Un a position on the international stage to solve the problem, it is a compromise worth making.