An opportunity for Korea
Jordan Ryan | Thursday, January 18, 2018
North Korea and its leader, Kim Jong-un, have been the subject of some of President Trump’s most memorable tweets. Trump has called the North Korean leader a “short and fat” and a “madman,” and in keeping with what may be his favorite pastime, labeled Kim “Rocket Man.” Not to be outdone, Kim has publicly referred to the President as an “old lunatic,” a “loser” and a “psychopath.” In what may be one of his most famous tweets, Trump continued the schoolyard insults by describing his “nuclear button” as being “much bigger” and “more powerful” than that of the North Korean leader.
While the bombastic battle between the leaders of two nuclear-armed nations may be great fodder for late night comedians, it has done little to advance the goal of a stabilized Korean Peninsula. Thankfully, in what may ultimately prove to be the proverbial first step in a long and difficult journey, representatives of North and South Korea met last week for the first time in two years.
The talks between Representatives of the divided nation were held in the demilitarized zone in what has become known as the “Peace House” located in the Panmunjom truce village. The discussions focused on North Korea’s role in the Winter Olympics to be held in South Korea’s Pyeongchang next month. Both sides reported the talks as positive.
As a result of those talks, North Korea has been invited to bring a delegation of athletes, performing arts group and its press contingent to the games. The South has proposed that Korean athletes from both nations march together in the opening ceremony of the Olympics. In what may have seemed to be the impossible only weeks ago, North and South Korea have agreed to field a joint women’s hockey team at the games.
The Olympics will quickly come and go. However, this diplomatic opportunity must not be squandered. North and South Korea have signaled a significant reduction in tensions between the two nations. The joint closing statement issued at the conclusion of the round of discussions remarkably read, “South and North Korea have decided to make joint efforts for the unity of the people and reconciliation by establishing an environment for peace and easing military tensions on the Korean Peninsula.”
The United States has an obligation to help continue the positive momentum created by this opportunity. Since he took office, Trump, perhaps justifiably, has taken a very hard line stance against North Korea. Aside from the somewhat juvenile taunts, the President has imposed broad sanctions on virtually every aspect of the North Korean economy.
Given Kim’s irresponsible testing of ICBMs and even nuclear arms, such sanctions may well be the only available reaction short of direct military intervention. However, the effects of such sanctions are open to question. John Delury, a professor at Yonsei University’s Graduate School of International Studies in South Korea, believes that North Korea has over time grown so accustomed to adapting to sanctions that their leadership is less phased by the economic pressure. In fact, such moves may be pushing North Korea closer to China. Professor Delury believes, “North Korea is used to sanctions and isolation. It doesn’t get them to do what we want them to do.” Experts also seem to agree that the imposition of more severe sanctions, even with the support of China, could be counterproductive in that North Korea may feel that its hand is being forced to take military action as its only available option.
We remain a great distance from a unified Korea. Nonetheless, there is some reason to have optimism. A “hot line: between the leaders of the two nations, long disabled, has been reestablished. Discussions are underway to take steps to avoid accidental conflict.
Trump has assured South Korean President Moon Jae-in that he would be willing to engage in direct talks between the United States and North Korea “at the appropriate time, under the right circumstances.” Those circumstances may well be upon us. The false alert in Hawaii on Jan. 13 should serve as a stark reminder of what could actually happen if North Korea should launch a missile attack against the United States or its allies. Though we are a long way from denuclearization of Korea, the first step may have been taken towards that ultimate goal. The Trump Administration needs to make every effort to keep moving in the right direction towards that goal, and in any event, must do nothing that could lead us two steps backwards. Perhaps the most recent news reports coming out of the Korean peninsula will prove to be more positive than the taunts and rants that filled the news in 2017.
Take this out of online story but you knew that Senior Jordan Ryan, a Pittsburgher formerly of Lyons Hall, studies Political Science, Peace Studies and Constitutional Studies. She welcomes any inquiries, comments or political memes to [email protected]
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.