In the arena of global politics, one does not always expect sharp and unanticipated turnarounds. Few developments could illustrate that better than last month’s Korean rapprochement. It was a historic moment marked by dozens of cameras, when North Korean leader Kim Jong-un crossed the demilitarised zone and met his South Korean counterpart. Later in a joint statement both men agreed to remove nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula. “The two leaders solemnly declared before the 80 million Korean people and the whole world that there will be no more war on the Korean Peninsula and thus a new era of peace has begun,” the joint declaration said.
But was this really a step towards peace or a political gimmick?
President Kim is buying time for pocketing more nukes, sowing differences among the US and its Pacific allies, trying to get relief from crippling sanctions, enhancing its economic relations and trying to isolate the great power. For centuries the great powers have been dreaming about a unique strategic course of action that would help shape a turbulent and chaotic regional order. This favours them in many ways. It not only supports their military industrial complex, and war economies, but also allows them to keep others dependent on them for security and nuclear umbrellas. Therefore, if the deal is a serious commitment by Kim and Moon towards progress then the damage has already been done. Following are few strategies North Korea may consider to further isolate the great powers in the region.
Strategy 1: North Korea may further strengthen its relations with other Pacific states, including Japan. It will help North Korea improve its economy, and expand its influence in the neighbourhood. Significantly, the move will further isolate the United States, by creating a fissure between the US and its Pacific allies.
Strategy 2: North Korea should initiate projects and shape policies as duty-free trade, and open borders for the neighbouring states. This will not only help North Korea to stave off ugly economic realities, but will also allow it to spend more on nuclear development. This will allow it to revamp its tourism industry.
Strategy 3: Besides, North Korea may assure that in any case it will not use nuclear weapons against its neighbours. This will not only expand its soft power but will also reduce its neighbour’s dependence on great powers.
Strategy 4: In the longer run it can play a vital role in providing nuclear umbrellas to its neighbouring states against alien threats.
Strategy 5: Winning the trust of neighbouring states would lessen global pressure on North Korea to de-nuclearise. Therefore, it is vital to better its trade and other relations with its neighbours.
However, if the past is any guide the deal may end as delusional. Evidently, in 1992, there were the Agreement on Reconciliation, Nonaggression and Exchanges and Cooperation between the South and the North and the Joint Declaration of the Denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula. At the historic 2000 summit, there was the South-North Joint Declaration, after which President Kim Dae-Jung of South Korea famously declared: “There is no longer going to be any war.” As leaders are selfish and states are rational actors and therefore they cannot be trusted all the time. It is too early to say, how long the peace will last, but one thing is sure that it will definitely benefit the Korean Peninsula, particularly North Korea.
Pyongyang will never trust Washington, and vice versa. Both will try and expand their interests and influence in the region. However, North Korea is unlikely to stop progress in the nuclear field. It will probably want to keep its offensive options in the pocket. The deal may bring the illusion of peace progress in the Korean Peninsula, but for the United States these overtures are nothing but a ploy.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 2nd, 2018.