Commen⁠t⁠ary: The S⁠i⁠gn⁠i⁠f⁠i⁠cance of ⁠t⁠he S⁠i⁠ngapore Summ⁠i⁠⁠t⁠

By: The James Madison Institute / 2018



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By Paul Donaldson

The Korean War began in 1950, and while the fighting may have stopped, the conflict between North Korea and the United States has continued. Indeed, the Korean War has yet to officially conclude; however, the historic meeting on June 12 may very well be the beginning of the end. Some will argue that minimal progress was made. Realistically, however, a divide that has lasted more nearly 70 years cannot be wholly mended in a matter of hours.

I contend that the first handshake fulfilled the meeting’s purpose: to get the two opposing parties to talk to one another. The fact that the warring nations reached an agreement – basically to continue negotiating — is a bonus.

I would be remiss, however if I did not mention what made this summit possible, and what precedents it could set for the future. I contend that President Trump’s refusal to yield to Kim Jong Un’s reported growing nuclear threat was actually central to making steps towards peace.

Although many Americans worried that President Trump was playing a game of chicken with nuclear warheads, the U.S. military knew that in the unlikely event North Korea was actually capable of delivering a nuclear warhead–and more importantly–would actually attempt a launch — it would be the only move the North Koreans could make before they would swiftly encounter retaliation. Kim Jung Un may be pompous, but he isn’t dumb; while he would never publicly admit it, he must know that attacking the United States would be suicide.

But more importantly, I believe simply possessing a nuclear arsenal was never the end game for North Korea. Instead, I suspect North Korea wants the respect and security that comes with being a nuclear power, and my reasoning comes directly from what the “Supreme Leader” has said.

For example, in a New Years Day speech, Kim is quoted as saying, “This year we should focus on mass producing nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles for operational deployment…These weapons will be used only if our security is threatened.”

In refusing to bow to North Korea’s taunts, President Trump forced the North Koreans to take a diplomatic approach to achieve their goal. During the entire exchange, in both issuing threats and offering olive branches, the United States held all of the cards, which is why the North Koreans scrambled and caved to U.S. ultimatums in a matter of days. For instance, when President Trump initially cancelled the summit; it was North Korea, not the United States, that needed to ensure Monday’s summit would actually happen.

If denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula continues as proposed, President Trump and his hardline diplomacy will almost assuredly receive the credit. He might even be considered for a Nobel Peace Prize, as suggested by South Korean President Moon Jae-in. And if that is the case, one can presume similar tactics could be used in future negotiations with Iran and others.

That being said, the case of the Singapore Summit even has further implications. Although North Korea and the United States did not enter the summit on an equal playing field or leave Singapore having reached concrete conclusions, this situation nonetheless begs the following question: If two nations literally at war with one another for more than 60 years can move forward to resolve key differences, what will it take before collaboration and bipartisanship supplant the division and polarization within our own borders?

While I admit the two conflicts may not be comparable, I know for a fact that I do not want to see the current inner turmoil that America is experiencing right now continue for 60 years.

This is not a problem that is going to fix itself. Moreover, finding a solution will take more than a single meeting to repair the damage. Nonetheless, I believe it is worth the effort.

In 1961, in his inaugural address, President John F. Kennedy — while referring to global diplomatic endeavors during a particularly tense period in the Cold War – made a timely appeal for national unity of purpose.

“United there is little we cannot do in a host of cooperative ventures,” adding  “divided there is little we can do — for we dare not meet a powerful challenge at odds and split asunder.”

Perhaps those words were never truer than now.

Paul Donaldson is currently interning with The James Madison Institute. He is a University of North Florida senior majoring in finance (BBA) with a double minor in economics and leadership.