Liberty Expose: Hold the Optimism on North Korea

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If we’re passing optimism around the table, don’t hand me the plate – I’ll pass. Recent days have seen a rare commodity coming out of the Korean Peninsula: hope. The recent summit between the leaders of North and South Korea appears to be nothing short of a success in diplomacy. Images of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un inviting South Korean President Moon Jae-in to cross the border into the North have shocked policy-makers.

The two leaders went off to talk privately, another unprecedented move. Kim Jong-un has also stated that he would shut down his nuclear weapons program, and he and President Moon promised to end the Korean War – which “ended” under an armistice, but both nations are technically at war nonetheless.

The images of President Moon crossing the DMZ look great in the Free World, but will the citizens of North Korea see those? Saying that the Korean War will officially end sounds great, but what does is actually accomplish? Technically, Russia and Japan are still at war with each other. Agreeing to a nuclear free Korea would be an incredible accomplishment, but those words come from a man that only a few months ago greenlit the assassination of his brother with a weapon of mass destruction in an international airport.

Kim said he would end his nuclear program. The two nations have promised to end the Korean War – a war which has not seen major combat since 1953. Essentially, the only material outcome of the summit was the planting of a tree. If that was the standard for diplomatic breakthroughs, then Presidents Trump and Macron have ushered in a new era of Franco-American relations by planting a tree on the White House lawn.

Kim’s motivations must also be questioned. Where is the character development in this story? Even by North Korea standards, the behavior of Kim Jong-un has been appalling. Unless Kim spontaneously became cognizant of his jackassery, there is no reason to believe that Kim has accepted the gospel of international cooperation into his heart. A more likely explanation might be found in his father’s action 20 years before.

This is a movie we have seen before. If this moment is giving you déjà vu, that’s because it has happened before. In the late 1990’s, Kim Jong-il had consolidated power after recently taken the thrown a few years earlier. In a war similar to what is happening now. North Korea had been under intense international pressure after it became increasingly totalitarian and did nothing to alleviate the suffering of North Koreans.

Not too dissimilar to what is happening now. South Korea had a president willing to overlook the tragedies of the past, and wished to broker in a new era of Korean relations. Like President Moon wants now. And like the younger Kim, Kim elder has made noises about behavioral reform. Which is happening now. The only main difference is in the former instance, we saw what happens. North Korea takes advantage of the generosity expanded to them and used international aide to consolidate power even further. Within a few years, North Korea would detonate a nuclear weapon.

Before South Korea and the U.S. lighten the pressure, North Korea must build some credit. If Kim is serious about rebuilding relations with South Korea and the U.S., he should do more than symbolism. He should loosen the coils that he has every North Korean in. He should allow inspectors chosen by South Korea and the U.S. to inspect his nuclear facilities. Kim must show he is serious about halting his weapons development by not firing missiles of the Sea of Japan.

I could be wrong – Kim could legitimately had a change of heart and accepted that cooperation with the West is in North Korea’s national interest. But the history of North Korean diplomacy paints a dim picture, one that is lacking in optimism. He could be ushering in a new era of relations, or he could be taking advantage of the gullibility of his enemies, as that regime has done numerous times before. Maybe Dennis Rodman has been executing a years-long campaign of Bismarkian diplomacy that has swayed Kim towards the sway of peace. Either way, the U.S. must always be prepared to hold out an olive branch – so long as there is a sword in the other hand.