What seemed impossible six months back is now a reality. A few months back, two of the most unpredictable leaders (Trump and Kim) of the world, with their social media altercations, brought the entire world to a standstill as a nuclear war in Korean Peninsula looked imminent. However, thankfully, better sense has prevailed as the world witnessed a historic event- the crossing of the border into South Korea by the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, yesterday. What makes this day truly historic is the fact that for the first time since the bifurcation of the Korean Peninsula, has a North Korean Leader stepped onto the soil of South Korea. In addition to that, the two leaders, Kim Jong-un and South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in, also pledged to work for a “complete de-nuclearisation” of the Peninsula, which is the highlight of the Panmunjom Declaration.
Is it the beginning of a Peace Era ?
In the guest book of South Korea’s Peace House before the meeting, Kim wrote,”A new history starts now. An age of peace,from the starting point of history”. Reciprocating views also came throughout the world, as leaders of major world powers like Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and Shinzo Abe issued statements welcoming this historic initiative by the two Korean leaders. Trump tweeted, “After a furious year of missile launches and nuclear testing, a historic meeting between North and South Korea is now taking place. KOREAN WAR TO END! The United States, and all of its great people,should be very proud of what is now taking place in Korea!”, while the Russian President’s spokesperson said that,“This is very positive news. Today, we see that this direct dialogue has taken place(and) it has certain prospects.”
However, amidst this sudden flurry of positive news, one thing which still remains unclear is the future road map of the announced “complete denuclearisation” plan. It must be noted here that, despite of the heavy symbolic value of this meeting and the rhetoric surrounding it, the core conflict still remains unresolved.
Moreover, the fact that both these countries cannot on their own solve the issue, only adds more skepticism. There are other key players whose interest is at stake here like, the US, China, Japan, and Russia. Given its superpower status, the most notable among them is certainly the US. However, it cannot unilaterally or bilaterally solve the conflict, as other players would not prefer a solution to their detriment. Meanwhile, the news is that the North Korean leader will most probably be meeting US President somewhere around end-May or in June. According to most of the experts this meeting will be the key deciding factor for the future. Whenever there is a treaty or an agreement between any two sovereign nation states, it involves a certain give and take, as compromise is the hallmark of world politics. Larger the stakes, bigger is the compromise required. In this light, if one looks at what has been promised yesterday, which is mammoth, one is bound to question, what will be the price of establishing this peace and will all the multiple actors involved be satisfied at the end? It is therefore also logical to ask, who will give away the most and who is going to gain the maximum? Given the transactional mind of Donald Trump and his preference for ‘striking the deal’, it could be expected that he might be willing to bend considerably, but only for securing America’s core interest i.e. ensuring the safety of American people. Thus, Trump’s main focus would be on ensuring that North Korea is not able to develop (or disarm) missiles capable of hitting the US mainland, but what Kim would demand in return might not be an ideal outcome for certain regional players. For instance, if Kim would put a condition of withdrawal of US forces from the region(which China would support), then Japan and South Korea might feel threatened and even betrayed(by the US).
The phrase “the devil is in the detail” fits perfectly to this situation. At present, there is very little clarity on what each side would demand or settle for. Negotiating a successful deal here would require not only adept diplomacy but also the willingness to take everyone on board. Who will have the last laugh is yet to be seen, for a very critical time in the history of Korean Peninsula has only begun with this historic meeting. It is too early to either predict or be jubilant. In conclusion, one would only hope for what the UN Secretary-General has said, “the leaders must now turn their commitments into action.”
Picture Credits: HuffingtonPost