The Korean Falling Out | Editorial

Following weeks of tentative overtures at reconciliation and grandiose gestures of a budding symbolic peace process, the relationship between the Koreas have turned sour, a turn of events that were anticipated but which bear explicit implications for the historical summit between the US and North Korea next month. The language used in the outbursts is a dramatic return to the rhetoric of the past, calling an end to the pledged peace treaty which stands as a segue to a reaffirmation of the two Korea’s commitment to denuclearising the Korean peninsula.
The United States and North Korea have been foes throughout the Cold War and have been engaged in a nuclear standoff, with 30,000 US military personnel stationed just over the border in the South. Pyongyang’s stoicism in developing its nuclear arsenal has been translated as a critical threat that has shaped successive US foreign policies and administrations. Trump’s strategy has been to enforce maximum pressure through ramping up sanctions and military threats, with the ultimate aim of denuclearizing the hermit state.
However, where the top-level meeting has been a paradigm shift it has also been a gamble for Trump, with no guarantee that N. Korea isn’t just playing along to ease sanctions. The summit in fact stands to provide the North Korea an equal status with the US and recognizes it as a de facto nuclear power and will not lead to North Korea’s denuclearization, rather it will enhance the legitimacy of Kim’s regime and afford him more time.
Where North Korea has indicated that security guarantees mean the departure of US forces from the Korean peninsula and the end of a mutual defence treaty with the South, perhaps the joint military drills were a strategic reminder to the North that US is still holding the reins. If so, the gesture might just be the blunder that causes a falling out in the tentative peace process, with a resurgence of hostilities and catastrophic consequences.

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