By Aliraza Manji
They say a picture paints a thousand words, and certainly, the picture above tells the story of two world leaders (Kim Jong-Un, left; Moon Jae-in, right), hand in hand, rejoicing and celebrating the path to a better, more prosperous future. With the signing of the Panmunjom Agreement, which officially ends the Korean War, and the symbolic action of stepping over the 38th parallel barrier, ‘a new era of peace has begun’. Undoubtedly, this is what Kim Jong-Un (Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) and Moon Jae-in (President of the Republic of Korea) would have us believe; howbeit, is it really that simple?
Kim Jong-un reportedly claims that ‘a new history begins now’, but for many Koreans, seeking reunification, this is a story they have heard so often. In 1991, after a year of talks, an agreement was signed on the areas of, ‘reconciliation, non-aggression, exchanges, and cooperation’, and most importantly, the ‘denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula’. At the time, it was believed that North Korea was years away from the development of nuclear arms capable of being put in a missile. Today, it is believed that they have developed an intercontinental ballistic missile, the Hwasong-15 which is capable of flying 2,700 miles, worrying able to target the entire US. With this history of walking away from agreements, on nuclear arms and also several armistice agreements. Why should we believe this time is any different?
This view is held by Andrew O’Neil, dean of the Griffith Business School at Griffith University in Australia, he comments that we should not take them ‘seriously’, as an announcement has not been made showing ‘willingness to put nuclear programs on the table’. Consequently, the chances of successful talks between President Trump and Kim Jong-un are unlikely; the
removal of nuclear arms is a pre-condition and President Trump has publically stated his willingness to ‘walk away’.
Another reason to be sceptical lies in the overall ambitions for North Korea, precisely because we are unsure what they are. This is, all the more, concerning as a year ago, they were still conducting missile tests. So, did the economic sanctions and political pressure really bring them to the table or is this just ‘expertly timed political theatre’, as believed by Dr. John Nilsson-Wright, University of Cambridge. According to Joseph Siracusa, professor of human security and international diplomacy at RMIT University of Melbourne, Australia, “the North Koreans want reunification, but on their terms.” It is believed that they wish, for a treaty with the US, removing troops from the region, and a treaty with South Korea, building a Korean Confederation, eventually reuniting Korea under the leadership of Pyongyang.
Recognizing that a potential aim of North Korea is the creation of a dictatorship, encompassing all of Korea, is there any reason to be optimistic? Unquestionably, yes there is, this is the first time that a Korean leader has passed the 38th parallel in 60 years, it has brought the US and North Korea, onto the table, who only a few months ago we’re edging closer to war.
This summit has incredibly high stakes and it could swing either way; it could forge a path to a peaceful future or a potentially an international catastrophe, only time will tell. One belief, however, remains clear the signing of the Panmunjom Agreement, brings immense possibilities, for world peace and more importantly the Korean people. On this account, let us stop posturing on the possibilities of failure, but look with optimism at the possibility of a brighter, flourishing re-united Korea.