Singapore Summit: A Landmark Moment in International Security?
On the 12th June 2018, two of the worlds most controversial political figures met in Singapore, for the first summit between the two leaders.
Whilst many consider this a landmark moment, we must not forget the fact that there have been two previous summits; with both ending disastrously, without substantial progress towards disarmament.
The skeptics, myself included, question the effectiveness of this particular summit, and what it may mean for international security, or more, insecurity in the coming months and years.
Worryingly, the events of 2018, with the North Korea – South Korea signing on the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, and the meeting between the US and North Korea are a mirror image of 1992.
The first two years of US engagement with North Korea were highly volatile, in which diplomatic breakthroughs were interspersed by dangerous crises.
North Korea made an agreement in January 1992 with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to allow its nuclear complex at Yongbyon to be inspected, and at the same time the US called off its joint military exercises with South Korea.
The consequent mood of optimism was short-lived. The arrival of the IAEA inspectors led rapidly to a conflict on how much of the Yongbyon nuclear plant they could see. The escalation culminated in the North Koreans unloading spent fuel roads from the Yongbyon reactor, a necessary precursor to extracting plutonium. The Clinton administration started reviewing plans for air strikes to stop them and the two sides came close to war.
After such tensions, former President Jimmy Carter flew to Pyongyang for a meeting with Kim Il-sung, attempting to put diplomatic relations back on track and implementing the 1994 Agreed Framework, which outlined rules by which North Korea must abide by; dismantling its reactor at Yongbyon to reduce its proliferation risk. Whilst this lasted almost nine years, it later emerged the country had been cheating, pursuing uranium to make a bomb.
Since 1994, the relationship between the US and North Korea has been tense, with North Korea dubbed a ‘rogue state’ and a threat to international security, and their nuclear weapon programme, alienation from Western politics and general isolation has been a cause for concern for decades. Whilst it is not pertinent to outline every single security issue North Korea has caused, the basic outline above is enough to put into context why the latest summit has been met with doubt.
With this in mind, it is little wonder many have doubts about this particular summit, and only time will tell whether the skeptics are wrong.
If we look for substance from this summit and the lead up to it, we have the North’s suspension of nuclear and ballistic missile tests, its destruction of something at a nuclear weapons test site, its commitment to destroy something at a ballistic missile test site and the return of some Americans who were being held as prisoners. In exchange, the US president attended a summit with the nearly universally shunned North Korean leader, effectively ended the influence of the sanctions regime against North Korea and promised to end military exercises with it’s ally South Korea.
The world watched with bated breath as the two leaders met on Tuesday, with the UN and NATO hailing the meeting as an historic successful, calling for North Korea to denuclearise for the sake of international security, and for the sake of Korean peninsula security.
Subsequently, Trump and Kim signed a joint statement, titled “Joint Statement of President Donald J. Trump of the United States of America and Chairman Kim Jong Un of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea at the Singapore Summit”, which Trump described as a “very important” and “comprehensive” agreement.
The main provisions of the joint statement are:
- The United States and the DPRK commit to establish new U.S.-DPRK relations in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity.
- The United States and the DPRK will join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.
- Reaffirming the April 27, 2018 Panmunjom Declaration, the DPRK commits to work towards the complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.
- The United States and the DPRK commit to recovering POW/MIA (National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia) remains including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.
Whilst there does appear to be a sustained effort, globally, to get North Korea to agree to and execute a programme to remove from it’s territory all nuclear weapons and fissile material, the immediate aftermath of this summit doesn’t leave the international community feeling particularly calm about an impending nuclear war, despite the joint statement.
However, that being said, the summit forms the first stepping stone in what will hopefully be a long and successful peace deal between the two countries, and will hopefully deliver genuine global peace in a decade of severe nuclear instability.