Ever since North Korea was formed in the 1940s it has acted as a rogue country and its actions has been the same. Over the years, the international community has tried to negotiate with North Korea to end its nuclear and missile development and export of missile technology. The efforts of negotiations with North Korea have always seen 3 phases- crisis, standstill and progress. North Korea has emerged as a major impediment to the global nuclear non-proliferation regime.
The international community has pursued wide ranging policies in response to the proliferation activities of the North Korea such as military cooperation between US and its allies, severe sanctions and non-proliferation sanctions such as export control. The US, Japan, and South Korea have also engaged in diplomatic initiatives to have denuclearization in return for aid.
After the pragmatic, Kim Jong-il came to power in 1994, North Korea signed the Agreed framework with US, Japan, and South Korea. According to this framework North Korea agreed to shut its illicit plutonium producing nuclear power plant in exchange for 2 light water nuclear reactors for electricity through an international consortium KEDO (Korea Peninsula Energy Development Organization). Following the collapse of the agreement, North Korea pulled from NPT in 2003 and again started pursuing its nuclear program.
After North Korea withdrew from NPT a six party talk was initiated involving China, North Korea, Japan, Russia, South Korea and US in 2003. In a critical breakthrough, North Korea pledged to abandon ‘all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs’ in 2005. And by 2007 all parties had agreed to a series of steps to implement North Korea’s pledge.
However, again all the progress broke down in 2009 after relations got strained between North and South Korea. In 2010 conditions worsened when North Korea revealed that it has opened up a new uranium enrichment plant. Several clashes have taken place between the two countries since then. After a period of hostile relations for over 8 years the US, South Korea and North Korea came back to the negotiation table in 2018 to follow the path of denuclearization.
Kim Jong-Un and Donald Trump
Kim Jong-Un took over as the supreme leader of North Korea in 2011. Since his arrival he has consolidated power into his hand and eliminated his potential rivals in the process. In his first ever public speech he came out with the ‘military first’ doctrine and vowed that the time when his country could be threatened was over.
Under Kim Jong-Un North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs has made rapid strides. North Korea has conducted 6 successful nuclear tests in last 11 years, 4 of which are in Kim Jong-Un’s regime. Pyongyang has claimed that it has successfully tested a miniaturized hydrogen bomb that could be loaded in a long range missile. While condemning US attacks in Libya, Iraq and Syria, it has said that the US has been picking only on countries without nuclear weapons and this could be Kim’s reason to build the nuclear arsenal to protect his regime. However in 2016, during the Korean worker’s party congress Kim Jong-Un described the country’s nuclear policy saying that North Korea would not use nuclear weapon until its sovereignty is encroached upon by hostile forces with nukes.
In 2017 the regime test fired several missiles and claimed it had ICBM’s that could reach US, leading to surge in tensions with the US and intensified sanctions. Many experts suggest that North Korea could be running additional secret uranium enrichment plants.
Before the presidential elections in 2016, Donald Trump had talked about opening dialogue with North Korea. He had said if given a chance he would invite Kim to Washington for a burger and talk him out of ‘those damn nukes’. He had even remarked about making a deal with North Korea.
President Obama upon leaving office had warned that North Korea’s nuclear program was the greatest threat Trump would face. And indeed after the elections the world saw a change in stance of Donald Trump with respect to North Korea. He had insulted and threatened North Korea and its leader through tweets. He had even ridiculed his own former Secretary of State Tillerson of wasting time on North Korea. President Trump had sought help from Chinese President Xi Jinping in resolving the crisis but it did not work out in anyone’s favour.
The whole of 2017 saw both leaders from North Korea and US taking potshots at each other and bringing the world to the brink of war. But even after continuous criticism and threatening, Kim declared that North Korea has completed its nuclear arsenal and it was only then that he started making reconciliatory overtures. He called for better relations with South Korea, and showed inclination to participate in the Winter Olympics.
While Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un were swinging punches at each other the world saw the emergence of Moon Jae-In, President of South Korea, as a statesman. Ever since Moon Jae-In was elected he has sought reconciliation between the two Koreas. He had even opposed to the payment and positioning of THAAD missiles in South Korea even before he was elected. This saw Kim’s sister Kim Yo-Jong and Kim Yong-Nam, the head of state visiting South Korea during winter Olympics. This was a highest level visit by a leader from North Korea to South Korea and the first by Kim’s family.
Later in April 2018 leaders from north and south met in a historical summit at Panmunjom. Kim promised the beginning of a ‘new age of peace’, and the two sides declared that there will be no more wars in the Korean peninsula. In Jakarta during the Asian games the two Koreas marched under the same flag in a stirring display of unity. It was second such symbolic gesture in 2018 by both the countries. South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-Yon and North Korean Deputy Prime Minister Ri Ryong-Nam were seen clutching hands in the VIP seats.
Kim Jong-Un and Donald Trump
On June 12, 2018 leaders of US and North Korea met for the first time since the 2 Koreas were formed at Sentosa Island, Singapore. A joint statement was released in which North Korea iterated its firm commitment to denuclearize the Korean peninsula. Mr. Trump offered security guarantees and promised to welcome the North to international community and allow it to prosper economically. Mr. Trump also announced that he would end the annual US-South Korea war games and withdraw US troops from South Korea and Japan.
Ever since the inception of North Korea, the behavior of the Kims has been erratic for bringing peace to the Korean peninsula. Chairman Kim has followed the same path of his predecessors- provocation and reconciliation. He has emerged as more of a crafty statesman and smart negotiator than being just a ‘little rocket man’ and brought US to the negotiating table after having tested his ICBMs and nuclear bombs. Was it not for DPRK’s assertion of Korean people’s sovereign right to self-defence Trump would have never agreed to the 4 points in the joint statement.
The joint statement is based on comprehensive, in-depth and serious analysis of the views related to establishment of new US-North Korea relations and building a lasting and robust peace regime in the Korean peninsula. On this mutual premise and mutual confidence building, denuclearization of the Korean peninsula is to be promoted. Further both the countries committed to recover (prisoners of war) POW/ (missing in action) MIA remains and immediate repatriation of those already identified.
Post- Singapore Summit
Following the introduction of crippling sanctions before the summit, North Korea’s economy shifted into reverse. The data of 2017 shows that North Korean exports of coal, iron ore and textiles had plunged by 40% to just $1.8 billion. The average annual income of North Koreans was just 5% of that of its southern counterpart.
Citizens in the North have long lived with economic deprivation under the state controlled regime. Kim hasn’t removed any regulations that prohibit free market but his administration has looked the other way in many cases allowing small businesses to operate independently and a small property market to emerge. These changes have helped him become a popular leader especially among the young North Koreans. Kim can use his position of denuclearization and negotiate for substantial package of financial aid.
Because of the erratic behavior of the Kims in the past, the older generations of South Korea distrust the North Korean leader; the new generation thinks that it would bring an amount of communism into South Korea. Given that US attacked Libya after it went for denuclearization and Iraq after that, it is hardly believable that north would go for complete denuclearization. According to some reports the THAAD batteries and the US troops close to the border remain in their place. As of now, denuclearization has been put in back burner. Initially some reports showed dismantling of launch sites but UN reports indicate otherwise.
Russia and China had been left out in discussions between the US and North Korean leader. They would aim to play a bigger role. Kim Jong-Un had met the Chinese leader on several occasions before and after the Singapore meeting. Some assurances might have been given by Mr. Xi Jinping to the North Korean leader. Japan and several other countries might like to hold similar meetings with the North Korean leader. These too will reinforce Kim Jong- Un’s position on the world stage adding to his stature and self-confidence.
-To be concluded-