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North Korea: It’s Personal, Political, and Panicky

Updated: Jul 8, 2019

Chairman Kim Jong Un of North Korea is notoriously known for his sour behavior towards the United States. The dialogue between both leaders revolves around Pyongyang’s nuclear missile program and U.S. sanctions.

This is the rundown: after the Korean War, North Korea became fearful that Washington could wipe them out any day. N.K. developed their first nuclear power plant with the intention of self-defense. With nuclear weapons capable of mass destruction and global safety at risk, North Korea signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, or NPT. However, at this point, questions arose regarding N.K.’s nuclear facilities lack of transparency. After negotiations during U.S. President Clinton’s term, North Korea and the United States resolved to the “Agreed Framework.” Essentially, under this agreement, N.K. would dismantle their facilities for a more diplomatic relationship with the United States. This soon took a turn. George W. Bush took a more hardline front to Pyongyang and their adherence to the Agreed Framework. Claims and arguments arose over arsenals, so the Framework fell through. Not too long after, Kim Jong Il also withdrew from the NPT.

Negotiations, nuclear tests, and new sanctions continued. A major milestone was N.K.’s successful intercontinental ballistic missile test in 2017 that could reach Alaska. This was right when President Trump coined the term “rocket man” for Kim Jong Un. To clap back, Kim labelled Trump as “mentally deranged.” Despite unprecedented tension, surprisingly enough, both countries became more open to diplomatic meetings, especially after the South Korean Olympics.

The honeymoon didn’t last long, as N.K. and the U.S. jumped into another disagreement. John Bolton, President Trump’s security advisor stated that the United States would follow a “Libya Model” to address North Korea. Bolton explained how “Kim Jong Un fears ending up like Muammar al-Qaddafi, who was the Libyan strongman pulled from a drainage pipe and shot to death by his own people following a U.S. led military intervention.” This led Kim to reconsider whether he would meet with Trump at Singapore summit. Ultimately, they met twice. But these summits did not yield a tangible resolution of denuclearization that the international community wanted. This brings the narrative to the present.

Remarkably, on June 30th of this year, Trump became the first U.S. president to set foot on North Korean soil. Despite the President’s recent tweets, Think Progress notes that “North Korea’s U.N. delegation does not seem to be at all swayed by the meeting.”

Now this is understandable. The United Nations Security Council, which maintains international peace and security, continues to face stalemate on the issue of North Korea. The U.S. recently mentioned how North Korea is violating limitations on fuel imports and called for stopping fuel deliveries. The U.S. has been leading the U.N. to point a finger at North Korea. N.K.’s frustration promotes a sentiment that they stand alone, boosting Kim Jong Un’s national pride for regime survival and military power. Similar instances with the U.S. attempting to strengthen sanctions have pushed N.K. to further antagonize the States. Ultimately, Kim Jong Un is not willing to comply to the United States’ demands to abruptly denuclearize. With Russia and China’s votes stalling the U.N., North Korean negotiations have been hawkish and inconclusive.

In order to further grasp the breadth situation, it is critical to also understand the East Asian triad: China, South Korea, and North Korea. Geopolitically, China is essential to the Korean Peninsula. For instance, CNN reports that “trade with China comprises 90% of North Korea’s trade.” In fact, China was also “South Korea’s top trading partner in 2018.”

Tensions in the peninsula date back towards the end of World War II and the Potsdam Conference. China supports the North with aid, economic support, and political prowess. The Council on Foreign Relations details how China’s priority is to maintain stability in the region and fears a N.K. regime collapse. China has the leverage, but does not want the U.S. to suffocate Pyongyang with sanctions. On the flip side, Beijing has also been sanctioning North Korea and warming up to South Korea, which strains N.K.- China relationships as North Korea fears Chinese intimidation. Ultimately, Xi Jinping demonstrates his influential role over the peninsula and could be a useful player to negotiate a denuclearization deal.

At the end of the day, avoiding a North Korean insurgency ought to be our main priority, and it is our responsibility as individuals to stay informed. Escalating tensions or a diplomatic breakthrough will likely impact us, so we must follow up on these turbulent, ongoing affairs.


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