President Donald Trump and Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un met in Singapore at 9:00 a.m. on June 12, 2018 (local time). It is the first time in history that an American president has met with a North Korean leader. Although experts thought that the meeting would only be ceremonial, Trump and Kim left Singapore with a signed document ensuring the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The points agreed on the joint-declaration are firstly, the United States and the DPRK commit to establish new US-DPRK relations in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity. Secondly, the United States and DPRK will join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula. Thirdly, reaffirming the April 27, 2018 Panmunjom Declaration, the DPRK commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Lastly, the United States and the DPRK commit to recovering POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.
As Kim commits to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, Trump agrees to cease the joint-operation military exercises conducted by South Korea, Japan, and the United States. Despite his earlier hostility towards North Korea, Trump was quoted at a press conference following the summit saying, “Under the circumstances that we’re negotiating a very comprehensive complete deal I think it’s inappropriate to have war games… It is something that [North Korea] very much appreciated.” North Korea views the war games as a provocation and Trump believes he will have better negotiation opportunities if he begins to diminish the U.S. military presence. However, leading U.S. commanders and military experts were unaware Trump would agree to that and view the war games as a vital deterrence mechanism, they plan to continue the war games until directly ordered to stop. Spokesperson Colonel Jennifer Lovett corresponded with the unofficial military newspaper Stars and Stripes, stating, “In coordination with our [South Korean] partners, we will continue with our current military posture until we receive updated guidance from the Department of Defense… and/or Indo-Pacific Command.” According to the Washington Post, despite Kim’s vast track record of human rights violations, Trump only briefly discussed them with him, as the intention of the meeting was opening a dialogue between the U.S. and North Korea. Although he faced criticism from Congressmen, Trump chose to prioritize discussions on denuclearization.
With recent tension between close allies following the G7 summit, Trump may face difficulty gaining support in working with Kim throughout the possibility of a denuclearized Korean peninsula. In the past, the same points have been agreed on between the two states, namely the 1994 Agreed Framework, but it is the first-time leaders from the two countries have met and signed an agreement. Anthony Ruggiero, senior fellow of Washington’s Foundation for Defence of Democracies think tank said, “It is unclear if further negotiations will lead to the end goal of denuclearization… this looks like a restatement of where we left negotiations more than 10 years ago and not a major step forward.” Although on a surface level Trump’s actions seem to be made with peaceful intentions, the issues surrounding North Korea may threaten the stability of the region. China has perceived the U.S. war games as a threat to their regional hegemony, including the possibility of Taiwanese sovereignty. If the U.S. begins to remove U.S. deterrence forces from the region, the threat of conflict could possibly increase especially because North Korea made no real concessions on reducing or eliminating their nuclear abilities.
The Korean War officially entered a ceasefire in 1953, but the conflict never ended. Throughout its brutal rule, the Kim dynasty has devastated their own population ruling with a staunchly anti-West and isolated institution. As aforementioned, similar negotiations have been made between the U.S. and North Korea, but historically North Korea has never followed through with de-escalation and denuclearization terms. President Trump marks the first American president to have echoed the complaints of violent provocation from the joint-operation war games, and the results of the summit are unpredictable.
The Singapore summit foreshadows a series of meetings between the United States and North Korea. Although experts are skeptical of its impact on legitimate change, it has opened a dialogue between two nations historically hostile to one another, and has made regional and world leaders optimistic about the tension on the Korean Peninsula. The United States and the United Nations must closely watch Pyongyang if the signed joint-statement leads to action. If the two leaders meet again, Trump and the U.S. negotiators must emphasize the array of human rights violations that occur daily in North Korea and include the requirement of national living standards to be improved.