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  • Writer's pictureChristensen

Peace in Korea?

Updated: Apr 24, 2018

***Please realize that I have no background in diplomacy or world politics. The ideas expressed in this blog are simply the “man on the street” POV and should not be taken as from an expert. You will simply get a look at the chatter among expats and Koreans who I have talked to or observed.

Strange things are afoot on the Korean peninsula. This week, we might actually have peace here after nearly seven decades of fighting. Could that truly be possible?

I’ll go straight to the punchline. I don’t think an end to the Korean War will happen.

Last night, I was chatting with a few Korean “ajuma” (older women), and I asked them if they thought that there was any promise of peace. Not one of them thought it was currently thinkable. They kept saying things like, “they didn’t even ask the Korean people what they wanted” and “it’s happening too fast.” I didn’t fully understand that last remark since the spasms heading to reconciliation have been happening for decades, but they soon schooled me on their take of international diplomacy and told me that this was all for show. Though, granted, they have a really low opinion of the Korean president, President Moon, so anything that he does, in their estimation, is a mistake.

This past week, I also discussed this with most of my university classes. Only maybe five out of my 130 students thought that anything would come out of the upcoming summits. Of course, this is not a scientific sampling, but it does seem to represent the general sentiment here. No one really thinks much of the peace talks. We tend to hear the news, whichever way it points, and just continue with our lives. Currently, my students are distracted by midterms and are focused on getting their As and memorizing the tons of information they will forget next week, so they are really not interested in the summits.

So, why is Trump coming over here to meet the person who he ridiculed by calling him the “Rocket Man”?[1], [2] Granted, Kim Jongun has joined in the food fight too with his own insults, and this all feels to me like a bully being forced to shake hands with another bully over a school yard fight. Yet, who is the teacher in this scenario? And why is Trump changing his attitude towards the country who he has called a “brutal regime”?[3]

Personally, I think it is a “wag the dog” situation. Trump needed a distraction from the many little fires that are threatening to burn down the White House. North Korea is a perfect distraction in that it probably won’t lead to anything but creates enough news to pull the focus away from what is happening in Washington DC (I could list all of the issues, but they are numerous). As well, Trump's acting as the "defender of the US" can potentially galvanize voters to rally behind the Republican party that is, seemingly, protecting them.

What about “Rocket Man”? What is his stake in all this? Kim Jongun has announced this past weekend that they already have nuclear capabilities and can end the testing.[4] As a friend of mine pointed out, this really takes the wind out of Donald Trump’s impetus for having the summit in the first place and also gives a greater bargaining chip for Kim when they do meet. The nuclear threat is still there, of course, but if North Korea has nuclear capabilities and missiles that can reach the US, then there is probably nothing that can be done now but to make sure that North Korea does not use what arsenal they have. Though, does North Korea truly have nuclear weapons capable of reaching the US? Can the US and maybe China somehow persuade North Korea to dismantle what nuclear weapons they might have?

So, why is Kim agreeing to meet with Trump? UN sanctions. Kim might be meeting Trump to push those sanctions out of the way so that North Korea can actually be able to breathe. Yet, in my experience, North Korea cannot be trusted to sign a peace treaty because they have a history only breaking compacts shortly after the ink dries. This might be perspective, and I haven't done the research to make sure this is true. Though, from what I remember, South Korea has made many arrangements with North Korea in exchange for supplies, and North Korea followed these arrangements when it benefited them. Though, in the end, they broke them when it benefited them to do so. So, Kim might be agreeing to meet with Trump to move his chess piece in the direction he wants it to go, away from UN sanctions, but when he is free of those, it is a good bet that he will ignore the promises he will make.

There is a third element in all this. President Moon. I like the guy (despite the fact that I’m told he is against immigration). He seems to genuinely want to do what will benefit South Korea and seems to work for the people here instead of just for himself. Out of the three, he is the one I trust and respect the most (which really is not saying much). Though, I think his good will might be pointless against the tug and pull of the other currents in play.

So, is peace truly possible?

I hope it is! Don’t get me wrong. I prefer peace over the cyclical states of ignoring the threat just above Seoul and prepping my bug-out bag when the vitriolic furor gets louder. And stranger things have happened. So, who knows? Maybe peace will finally happen, and my wife and I will be able to ditch our "survival plans".

But this seems to me to be the normal banter between North and South Korea. I have lived in South Korea on and off since 2001 (a total of 11 years). During my time here, I have never heard of a potential peace treaty between the two “brothers”, but I have seen North Korea make overtures of working with South Korea in some fashion. They even created a shared factory to only then do something to break that deal.[5] From my observations, North Korea often tries to take advantage of South Korea’s hunger for a renewed union. “We will do what you say if you give us this.” Yet, in reality, the Kim dynasty only does what it feels will benefit them in the moment and will go back on any deal when it doesn’t benefit them.

I might have fallen prey to propaganda, but I have tried to view this from all sides. And I really don’t think peace is possible…yet.

I'll keep my survival backpack stocked for a while.

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