By Mikah Covelli
On April 27, 2018, Kim Jong Un and President Moon Jae-in met on the North-South Korean border at Panmunjom for a historic summit that focused on denuclearization, the Korean War, and the reunification of the Korean peoples. During the conference, Kim Jong Un crossed the Military Demarcation Line and entered South Korean territory to greet President Moon Jae-in, becoming the first North Korean leader to actually step foot in an area controlled solely by South Korea. The two leaders shook hands, smiled for the cameras, and much to the globe’s surprise, signed the Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification on the Korean Peninsula.
The declaration states that both countries will work towards the cultural and societal reunification of the two Koreas and create a new era of peace in Korea through the establishment of denuclearization and disarmament. As explained by Reuters, inter-Korean unity will be fostered by the holding of joint events on dates that hold cultural significance for both North and South Koreans, and these events will involve “participants from all levels, including central and local governments, parliaments, political parties, and civil organizations.” This goal of reunification between the Koreas will also involve the reunion of separated families/family members who have been kept apart by inter-Korean tensions.
According to the declaration, both North and South Korea will cease any and all hostile acts against each other in both land, air, and sea, and will begin disarmament in a “phased manner.” Although the declaration states that the two Koreas will have active discussions regarding the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and will involve the international community in this goal of denuclearization, it fails to outline any direct action North Korea could/will take (e.g. surrendering its nuclear weapons arsenal; ceasing nuclear testing) to achieve such denuclearization. The absence of specific, concrete actions in the declaration to be taken by North Korea has become a source of contention for both individuals living in the Korean peninsula and those on a global scale.
Many have questioned the likelihood of Kim Jong Un actually following through with the peace agreement. Not only is North Korea highly motivated to continue building its nuclear arsenal (the South Korean-United States alliance poses a prominent threat to North Korea, as the combined military might of these two powerful nations against the North could seriously cripple it), but North Korea also has an incredibly poor track record of following through in past peace agreements with South Korea.
Take, for example, the 2000 South-North Joint Declaration, and the 2007 Declaration on the Advancement of South-North Korean Relations, Peace and Prosperity. Both of these “peace” documents preached of peace and reunification, even stating that both North and South Korea would “put an end to military hostilities, mitigate tensions and guarantee peace on the Korean Peninsula…”, as quoted from the 2007 declaration. As is evident by North Korea’s continued nuclear weapons development and testing (six nuclear tests have been conducted by the North since 2006), nothing peaceable or worthwhile has resulted from such previous talks.
President Trump himself has expressed hesitation about this latest development in inter-Korean affairs; he stated on Twitter that “Good things are happening, but only time will tell…,” reflecting the encouraging, yet cautious tone that many other nations have taken towards the summit.
Soon after the groundbreaking Inter-Korean summit occurred, President Trump and Kim Jong Un set a date for what would have been an equally historic summit meeting between the U.S. and North Korea in Singapore. The fate of this conference has been thrown into jeopardy, however, as President Trump has withdrawn from the summit in the aftermath of North Korean threats to call off the summit should the United States continue insisting on “unilateral nuclear abandonment.” This abject failure to adhere to a peace-talk-fostering summit has only served to emphasize the looming possibility of nuclear war and further heighten global tensions.
If denuclearization is not reached in the near future and nuclear war ensues, the results would be disastrous. Millions would perish as a result of the combined usage of nuclear, biological, and chemical weaponry by both sides of the fight. According to Newsweek, the federal government’s secret “war games” have predicted the death toll of a war with North Korea; it is estimated that 1 million civilians would die before nuclear weapons are introduced in the war, and about 10,000 wounded U.S. personnel would be killed within days. Nuclear war would be devastating for both the United States and the Korean Peninsula, not to mention the other nations that might get caught in the crossfire due to political ties/alliances to either country or simply due to geographic location.
The immense importance of reaching a peaceful resolution between the United States, North Korea, and South Korea, as well as working towards both disarmament and denuclearization, has only grown in light of the recent political and martial developments on the Korean Peninsula (e.g. North Korea’s nuclear weapons testing, the Inter-Korean conference, and the possibility of a summit between the U.S. and North Korea). As of now, it is in the hands of President Trump and Kim Jong Un to de-escalate the tensions between their respective nations, and avoid the enactment of an aimless, devastating nuclear war.