The second so-called Trump-Kim summit began in Hanoi, Vietnam with low expectations and little fanfare from the American People. For the US President, the very fact that he and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un have had two meetings means he has already achieved great success in the realm of US-North Korean relations. Given the first Trump-Kim Summit ended with a commitment to establish renewed relations, it would seem Trump’s foreign policy initiative is headed in the right direction. At the very least, Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un seem to have forged a personal relationship. Meeting with the Supreme Leader of North Korea and talking has, however, never been the issue. Any US President, or the leaders of any US ally, could have met with the North Korean leader at any point in time. The US and the North have, in fact, been involved in numerous multi-party talks, made numerous peace gestures, and reached several breached agreements, which is why Trump’s initiatives face unrelenting criticism.
The problem with US-North Korean relations has always been that neither party shared the same goals on the Korean War, nuclear weapons, or the Kim Regime’s tyrannical rule. They both have interests in the resolution of these major issues, but neither side has been able to find a mutually beneficially outcome. The first Trump-Kim Summit also ended with a commitment to build a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula, a commitment to pursue “denuclearization,” and a commitment to repatriate the remains of soldiers killed during the Korean War. The latter commitment has long been a goal of US-North Korean interactions, which is why the Kim regime has been able to continually use the remains of US servicemen as a bargaining chip. The same is true of the commitment to peace. Denuclearization, which the Kim regime has avoided defining, has also been an elusive goal that the North has routinely used to force parties to provide it with humanitarian aid. The unfortunate truth is that the Kim regime has a far greater interest in maintaining its nuclear arsenal and heavy military footprint than adopting a peace stance. Its nuclear arsenal and a massive military is the only reason North Korean even matters to the US and the rest of the International Community. Without these things, it is just another poor, underdeveloped Third World country.
Beyond the threat of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal and military, the Kim regime is one of the world’s most oppressive and brutal authoritarian governments on the planet. It is far worse than that of Cuba, Iran, Venezuela, or even Syria. It may well be even worse than the military regime of Myanmar, which was forced to adopt democratic reforms before the Obama Administration was willing to engage its leadership. President Trump has been exceptionally critical of these governments and President Barack Obama’s willingness to work toward peace. It is certainly true that Kim Jong-Un, like his father, can be a cordial and engaging person. Dennis Rodman and his infamous visits to North Korea proved that, but pleasantries are simply pageantry. Quite frankly, Rodman’s relationship with the Kim regime is probably just as significant as Trump’s budding relationship, sins the complications of Trump being the US President. Whether Kim Jong-Un is a likable person or not has no bearing on his leadership style and the policies of his family’s government. How the Kim regime treats the North Korean People and the Peoples of the world is solely what matters.
The primary benefit of both Trump-Kim summits for the US will likely be the potential to improve America’s image in the eyes of the North Korean People. This benefit will, however, disappear as soon as the North Korea propaganda machine decides it has become a threat to the Kim regime. Should the US become too popular, the oppression and failures of the Kim regime will come into focus. Even if the Kim regime pledges to curb the growth of its nuclear arsenal and learns to trust US leadership enough to ease its hardened military stance, Pyongyang will still need an enemy to justify its perpetual emergency state and prevent people from rebelling. The only reason the Kim regime still exists is that it keeps the North Korean People isolated from the world. Because the North’s isolation from the global economy is leading to the slow collapse of the Kim regime, Pyongyang needs relief from international sanctions, but its existence depends on its ability to suppress any and all dissent, which requires isolation. Consequently, the fruits of Trump and Kim’s friendship will only serve to undermine the very sanctions regime that could lead to the end of the Kim regime and sustainable peace.
Quite frankly, Kim Jong-Un, like his father and grandfather, is not a responsible leader who wants to do what is best for his People and country. He is not even a decent human being. He is a tyrant whose war machine routinely tortures his own People and uses its nuclear arsenal to bully the rest of the world in order to skirt efforts to stop it from hurting its own people. Any peace effort that ensures the survival of the Kim regime and fails to address the blatant human rights abuses of the Kim regime is a farce. Denuclearization, as well as the demilitarization of the Korean Peninsula, is important to the world, but the Kim regime cannot pursue the alleged goals of the Trump-Kim summit and survive. A peace regime cannot be established on the Korean peninsula as long as an abusive, paranoid military power unable to permit its own People to see the world exists. The world moved beyond the Korean War long ago. As a relic of the Korean War, the Kim regime has to be dismantled in order to achieve the goals of the Trump-Kim summits. If Kim Jong-Un is not unwilling to abdicate his throne, or his generals will not let him, the best Trump can achieve is the status quo. The best Kim Jong-Un can achieve is sanctions relief and the pacification of US, South Korean forces.
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