Tensions between the United States and North Korea have never been higher. The relationship between the two nations had reached a fever pitch and the rhetoric released by North Korea was filled with hate for America and her ideals. All of a sudden, despite years of anti-American propaganda, they changed their tone. Suddenly, the North Korean regime began to sound like a rational actor; wanting in at the Olympic games, international summits, and trade negotiations. It seemed as though we were entering a new dawn of peace on the Korean Peninsula after decades of tension and nuclear threat. Indeed, the future of the Korean Peninsula had seldom looked brighter. Finally, North Korea had come to the table to sign a historic agreement with the United States pledging to end its nuclear weapons program and begin a new era of peace.
That agreement was signed by the Clinton Administration in 1994, in a disturbingly similar set of circumstances to those of today. Now, with the Trump Administration leading the charge of diplomacy around the world, it seems history is repeating itself.
A quarter of a century on, nothing much seems to have changed. North Korea never did end up ending its nuclear weapon program, in fact, the regime invested more heavily into it. Instead of joining the international community of freedom and peace loving nations, it reverted to the hermit kingdom it was. The optimism of the mid-nineties faded in the face of reality. An attempt to reign in the communist dictatorship of North Korea had failed and the United States was made to look foolish. Today, optimism surrounding the relationship between North Korea and the United States abounds. After the recent Trump-Kim Summit, many are espousing the diplomatic talents of President Trump, with some suggesting that he is deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize. Once again, we seem to be jumping the nuclear gun.
During the summit, both President Trump and Kim Jong-un signed an agreement to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula and work towards an era of common peace.
Already, the summit has had far-reaching consequences. The Pentagon announced only recently that the U.S. Military would not be holding its annual training drills with South Korean forces, a move that has alienated one of America's most vital allies on the Asian continent. In the hopes that a flimsy treaty will change over half a century of hostile diplomacy and human rights abuses, the United States has already undermined its strategic position on the Peninsula. Trump has even suggested that he was considering removing all U.S. forces from South Korea.
There is a consensus among the international community of nations that the world is a better place when America is strong and able to lead. America, being the freest and most powerful nation the world has ever seen, needs to be a keystone player in every international conflict where liberty is in jeopardy. Part of that means taking care of the relationships it enjoys with free and democratic nations around the world. Unfortunately, many of these relationships have fallen into decay under the Trump Administration. In Asia, South Korea remains one of the United State's most important resources to maintaining order and influence in the region. The relationship between the two countries must, for the sake of world peace, be maintained, nurtured, and protected. With the United States choosing to back out of military drills with the South, they are doing just the opposite. The United States has already taken steps that threaten to erode one of the most important international relationships in the world.
The prospect of U.S. Military force being removed from the Korean Peninsula is indeed a frightening one. It is commonly argued that one factor maintaining the status quo of relative peace in the region, and preventing military aggression from the North, is U.S. presence in the South. To date, the fear of military retaliation from the United States directly from the close proximity of South Korea has been the main deterrent preventing North Korea from going too far in their aggression. Too date, the status quo has been successful (as long as success is measured in the absence of invasion or nuclear confrontation). With the threat of U.S. troops being removed from the Peninsula, the situation will inevitably change. Without U.S. forces in close proximity, the North will be missing a deterrent from attack. Even with the signing of a (non-binding) nuclear agreement, the United States, led by the Trump Administration, is implementing policy that history may prove to be foolhardy. We may be witnessing a basic miscalculation of North Korean motive. A widely held understanding among member nations and elder statesmen of the international community is that the initial reason for the North Korean regime coming to the table with the United States in the first place is because of the threat that U.S. troops stationed in Korean pose to the North. If the U.S. begins to cancel military drills and pull out of Korea, North Korea would no longer have any reason to make good on its promises to end its nuclear weapons program.
One of the most common arguments used to justify the Trump-Kim Summit - one that happens to be made most often by Trump supporters - is that the North will be forced into complying with the agreement out of sheer intimidation from President Donald Trump. This argument, made without a lot of forethought, is weak at best. The assumption is that President Trump is so unlike other presidents before him that he is able to intimidate North Korea into ending its nuclear program because he is the "strongest strongman" ever to preside in the Oval Office. Let's think about it for a moment. The Kim family has been in power since 1972, when Kim Il-sung created for himself the position of "Supreme Leader of North Korea." In contrast, President Trump took office in 2017. the current leader of North Korea's rule is limited only by the number of years in his life. On the other hand, President Trump's leadership is limited to a four year term, and if he's lucky, another four year term contingent on the wishes of voting Americans. The Kim family has tended to think in terms of decades and centuries when it concerns their foreign policy, not in mere years and months. That is something President Trump can't afford to do, simply as a result of the political systems operating in the United States. If Kim truly was intimidated and frightened of the U.S. President (an event that I somehow doubt), he could easily just wait out the Trump Presidency before returning to the development of Nuclear Weapons on the Peninsula.
The personality cult that Kim was able to establish in the span of only a few days during the summit was nothing short of impressive. Around the internet, widespread fanfare lead to photos of Kim being shared virally, in the most lighthearted ways. One picture shows the Singapore officials taking a selfie with Kim during a night on the town. On social media, photos like these are being shared and posted in ways that neglect to pay proper dues to the evils of the Kim regime. With lighthearted joking, picture taking, and posing with the dictator, we face the danger of forgetting how truly destructive his regime is to millions of Koreans.
The Human Rights Watch organization said this in one of their most recent annual reports; "North Korea is one of the most repressive authoritarian states in the world." They aren't alone in thinking this. Amnesty International reported that in 2017 and 2018, approximately 120,000 North Koreans have been and are languishing in four known political concentration camps. On top of that frightening statistic, Kim has been known to publicly execute family members with whom he has disagreed. The most high-profile incident occurred when he ordered his own uncle to be shot with an anti-aircraft gun. By making light of Kim and his escapades around the diplomatic circuit, we do a grave disservice to the millions suffering under the Kim regime. No matter what happens we can't forget; as it stands now, Kim Jong-un and his North Korea are the very antonyms of freedom democracy. He is the enemy of everything we hold dear in the West.
It is a sad day when the flag of the greatest and freest nation on Earth appears directly beside the flag of one of the most oppressive dictatorship. Amid the excitement of the Trump-Kim Summit, America has forgotten herself. The prospect of meeting the leader of a hermit kingdom had allowed us to forget the values our forefathers have charged us with protecting and defending. Rather than taking a position of not meeting with Kim until his human rights issues have been resolved, President Trump met anyway in a bid to be the first president to do so. His choice compromised America's diplomatic standing and showed the world that the U.S. was indeed willing to negotiate with tyrants.
Nowhere was the President's willingness to ignore large issues made more clear than in a recent press conference: A reporter asked the President why he had defended North Korea's terrible human rights record, to which Trump replied, "you know why? Because I don't want to see a nuclear weapon destroy you and your family." This approach is not only wrong, it is deeply harmful. The Trump Administration's policy seems to be that ignoring human rights abuses is fine, so long as Trump can be the first sitting president to meet with a North Korean dictator and possibly win the Nobel Peace Prize. It's time that the President realizes the extent to which human rights matter for diplomatic relations around the world, and how meeting with human rights issues left unresolved sends the wrong message to the world.
The current path of U.S.-North Korean relations is of great concern. The U.S. is attempting to put in place a strategy of appeasement without first demanding changes. Ignoring human rights abuses and coming to the negotiating table prematurely shows the world the willingness of the Trump Administration to forget American ideals. Appeasement is a strategy that has failed in the past, and it will fail again. The Trump Administration must reaffirm its relationship with allies and keep a strong military presence on the Korean Peninsula, regardless of the summit's outcome. America must send the message to the world that it intends to defend democracy and human rights, and will refuse to work with nations until they agree to do the same. If a country fails to protect the basic values of freedom and democracy, they should not have a place among the international community of free nations.