It might be hard to believe, considering the very real possibility of nuclear war just last summer, but the last time North Korea conducted a nuclear missile test was just over a year ago: November 28, 2017. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the country hasn’t stopped developing its nuclear program, however – evidence has shown that North Korea has continued to expand and maintain missile sites in spite of the agreement signed between Kim Jong Un and President Trump at the Singapore peace summit earlier this June that affirmed its desire to do just the opposite.
Much of the media’s focus has been on North Korea’s lack of commitment to the summit agreement, as well as the Trump Administration’s lack of progress as a whole in working towards denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Yet South Korea’s involvement in the entire affair has gone, for the most part, unnoticed.
Behind the scenes, President Moon Jae-In has negotiated a number of small, yet incredibly crucial agreements with Kim Jong Un that have helped push the two Koreas towards something of a reconciliation. This push towards reconciliation has been happening at a much more rapid rate than the Trump Administration’s push for denuclearization, something that has caused conflict between South Korea and the United States.
In fact, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently remarked in a November 20 news briefing that the U.S. “want[s] to make sure that peace on the peninsula and the denuclearization of North Korea aren’t lagging behind the increase in the amount of inter-relationship between the two Koreas” – a clear response to President Moon’s agreements with Kim.
Yet even in spite of these small agreements and conflicts, what really has changed since the Singapore summit? One could argue that this is the new status quo: A North Korea that publicly makes promises of peace, privately prepares for war, yet makes no threatening moves. An America that boldly declares progress, has achieved little, and is attempting to temper its ally’s zeal for peace for the sake of denuclearization. A South Korea that is all too willing to make concessions to North Korea in a somewhat effective push for peace, and that has acted as a mediator between its northern neighbor and its ally.
In a way, this has been the closest thing to peace between North Korea and America as we’ve gotten in the past decade. Neither country wants to risk its destruction and a possible nuclear war in attacking another. Neither country wants to give up any major concessions without getting something of equal value in a possible peace treaty between the two. North Korea wants to keep their nuclear weapons. America doesn’t want that to happen. And in the middle of it all is South Korea, trying to forge a sort of peace in spite of the conflict.
Whether or not peace will be achieved on the Korean Peninsula will depend on how much each country is willing to give up in any peace talks. Will North Korea be willing to give up its nuclear weapons? Will the United States be willing to accept a nuclear, yet peaceful, North Korea? Will South Korea be willing to forgo a full, interdependent relationship with its northern neighbor? Unless something is done – this is the status quo.
This article was written on November 29, 2018, and thus may not reflect recent developments regarding North Korea.