The DPRK-US Singapore Summit
R Arun Kumar
COMING out of the historic summit that took place in Singapore on June 12, between the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea (DPRK) and the US, the president of DPRK, Kim Jong-un declared, “The world will see a major change”. Donald Trump, US president joined, stating that “Anyone can make war, but only the most courageous can make peace!” Analysts across the world, including nay-sayers are poring through the one and half page declaration adopted in the summit and passing their judgements. In spite of their varied analysis, one thing is universally accepted – the summit had reduced tensions in the Korean peninsula and opened the path for establishing lasting peace.
Few months ago, many were skeptical, when it was announced that presidents of the DPRK and the US would be meeting shortly. Since the Korean War (1950-53), there were no official relations between the DPRK and US. Not long ago, the leaders of both the countries were trading threats and accusations, which many believed took the world to the brink of a war. These apprehensions were confirmed when Trump had declared that he will not be participating in the summit, jeopardising all the efforts that went into its preparation.
Intensive behind the scenes preparations went to ensure that the summit takes place. The breaking of thaw happened with the meeting of presidents of DPRK and Republic of Korea (ROK or South Korea) in the month of March this year. This was followed by a series of meetings held at various levels of officials, including the visits of US Secretary of State, Pompeo who made two visits to North Korea and the visit of Kim Yong-chol to New York. The role played by South Korea and China in ensuring that the summit takes place also cannot be ignored.
Finally, when the summit did happen, almost all the world eagerly dissected every move of the leaders and keenly watched its proceedings. This was because of a host of reasons. No president of the DPRK ever met for discussions with a sitting US president. Since the collapse of Soviet Union, the world is largely ignorant of what is happening in the DPRK. Most of the international media is comfortable in branding the country as a totalitarian State and its leaders as dictators. Whatever is known about DPRK is known from sources whose authenticity is highly questionable. The summit for the first time, gave the world an opportunity to glance at the head of the State of DPRK.
TAKE AWAYS FROM THE SUMMIT
The major take away from the summit is the commitment of the US to immediately put a halt to the ‘war games’ that it conducts along with South Korea in the region. DPRK always termed these exercises as ‘provocative’ and a ‘threat’ to its security. Trump has conceded to this demand and agreed to call-off the ‘war games’ that are scheduled to be held in August. In fact, some of the US defence analysts were dismayed when they heard Trump term what they used to call ‘military exercises’ as ‘war games’. They consider it as a major climb-down by any serving US head of the State. Trump, true to his style, stated: “We will stop the war games which will save us a tremendous amount of money...It is very provocative. … They are tremendously expensive” (emphasis added).
Another important take away is US commitment to offer security guarantees to DPRK. The joint declaration adopted in the summit states: “President Trump committed to provide security guarantees to the DPRK….” Though vague in terms of what these guarantees are, this is another important demand that the DPRK has always been making. In the process, the DPRK has agreed to ‘work towards complete denuclearisation’ of the Korean peninsula. Both the countries have agreed to ‘join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula’.
The joint declaration ended with both Kim Jong-un and Trump declaring their commitment “to cooperate for the development of new US-DPRK relations and for the promotion of peace, prosperity, and security of the Korean Peninsula and of the world”.
Almost all the world leaders welcomed the outcome of the summit expressing their hopes that this would lead to the establishment of peace and security, not only to the Korean peninsula, but also to the entire world. South Korean president Moon Jae-in, in a statement issued after the summit stated that “building upon the agreement reached today, we will take a new path going forward”. Acknowledging ‘the possibility of numerous difficulties ahead’ and speaking on behalf of the two countries, he vowed to “never go back to the past again and never give up on this bold journey”. DPRK’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), lauding the summit reported that the ‘US president expressed his intention to lift sanctions’ “over a period of good-will dialogue between the two countries”. It also quoted Kim Jong-un as saying that DPRK can take unspecified “additional good-will measures of next stage commensurate with them if the US takes genuine measures to build trust”. It was also reported that the leaders of both the countries agreed to visit each other’s countries at a mutually convenient time, taking further ahead the steps decided at the summit.
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND AND CHANGED CIRCUMSTANCES
The summit, in spite of all these, as some had expected, did not officially bring an end to the Korean War or remove sanctions on DPRK. It needs to be remembered here that though an armistice agreement was signed, the Korean War never ended officially. The positions adopted by the US since its involvement in the Korean War, the division of the country into two parts, the Geneva conference in 1954, remained as obstacles for the establishment of lasting peace in the region. On the top of it, US vitiated the atmosphere in 1957 when in contravention to the armistice agreement it declared its intention of bringing in nuclear weapons in the Korean peninsula. Since then, US continued its hostile acts against DPRK, by sending its navy vessels, spy planes and increasing its military presence in the region. Repeated attempts by DPRK for talks and conclusion of the peace treaty were rejected. The relations further deteriorated when George W Bush declared DPRK as an ‘axis of evil’. As the US continued to violate all the agreements and its commitments, DPRK withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2003. The US refused to cooperate with the six-party talks involving China, Japan, Russia, apart from DPRK, US and South Korea. On the other hand, it had imposed economic embargo and increased its military war games in the Korean peninsula, intended as a show of strength and threaten DPRK. The continued US military presence in the region and its violation of all agreements to restore ‘normalcy in the region’, forced DPRK to commence its nuclear programme and testings, which began in 2006 and continued till this year. DPRK, all through has been persisting with its demand of signing the peace treaty, which the US has been resisting to this day.
The US had hoped that its military might and doctrine of ‘strategic patience’ (a misplaced hope that economic sanctions will cripple the economy of the country and will ultimately lead to its collapse) will force DPRK to its knees and succumb to its demands of systemic change. As times have shown, all these hopes stand belied. With its strong anti-imperialism, patriotism and commitment to build socialism, DPRK was able to withstand all these pressure tactics and survive.
As Obama was forced to rethink the US strategy on Cuba, acknowledging that all the earlier policies have failed in their purpose, Trump too was forced to rethink the imperial strategy on DPRK. This does not and should not mean that US has given away its desire to subjugate these countries or has foregone its hatred towards socialist system. Neither of them is true, nor is the fact that successive US presidents want to seal their names in history as doves of peace, winning Nobel Peace Prizes. The real reason for the changed strategies lies in the changed circumstances.
Just as DPRK needs economic sanctions to be lifted for its economic development, countries like South Korea and the US needs DPRK’s resources for exploitation. DPRK has undeclared reserves of rare earth metals that are used in today’s smart gadgets, along with iron and other minerals. Moreover, for international finance capital that is desperately seeking any place in the world to nestle in these times of crises, DPRK offers an opportunity, however small it may be. It is looking at the tremendous possibilities that the country offers when it opens for investment in infrastructure and other development projects. South Korea can use its technological know-how to expand its rail network and cut its time to reach Europe with its goods. Russia is similarly looking at another market for its gas. The learned labour power available in DPRK is another added attraction. All these economic reasons cannot be discounted as driving forces in the rethink of strategy.
We should never forget the real intentions of imperialism, even when it talks the language of peace. Forever vigilant and cautious, we should welcome however small a step towards the establishment of peace in any region of the world.