Donald Trump tried to open the doors for possible denuclearization in Pyongyang but they have since closed.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un recently signed a law that codified that nation’s nuclear weapons program, slamming shut the door to the possibility of denuclearization that had, during the administration of former US President Donald Trump, been tantalizingly held open.
While South Korean officials have indicated that they had anticipated this step, the fact is that Pyongyang’s move has fundamentally altered the strategic reality in the Pacific. Any potential conflict with North Korea now brings with it the near certainty of nuclear weapons being used against South Korea, Japan, and the United States, prompting threats from the South Korean Ministry of Defense that any such move by its northern neighbor would be little more than a “walk into a path to self-destruction.”
There is little doubt that the United States would respond with a devastating nuclear response to any Noth Korean use of its nuclear weapons. However, American nuclear vengeance would offer no comfort for the millions of South Koreans, Japanese and American citizens whose existences could be (and most likely will) end.
South Korean, Japanese and American citizens need to look at this change and question how it happened. The current US President Joe Biden, and his government are ultimately to blame.
When Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, came to office, he was confronted with a series of US policy realities more stagnant than dynamic. These included, among others, the status of NATO, the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal, US-Russia arms control, the ongoing US military presence in Afghanistan, and the issue of North Korea’s nuclear weapons.
Trump was unable to resolve some of these issues. The most notable example is his decision not to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). The US establishment was also highly critical of other policy proposals, including the demand that NATO member countries pay their fair share in collective defense costs and the beginning of withdrawal from Afghanistan.
So, too, was Donald Trump’s bold initiative to engage directly with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on the issue of denuclearization. While Trump ended up softening his stance on NATO and held off on ordering a withdrawal from Afghanistan until the end of his presidency, the North Korean initiative was acted on decisively from the very beginning of Trump’s time in office.
Early in his tenure, Donald Trump threatened North Korea with “fire and fury” if it were to threaten the United States with a nuclear-armed missile, and mocked Kim as “Little Rocket Man.”However, the Winter Olympics in South Korea was a catalyst for positive interactions between the United States, North Korea, and South Korea. Trump invited Mike Pompeo (then CIA Director) to North Korea to arrange a summit with Kim.
Immediately after Pompeo’s visit, Kim announced the closure of the country’s nuclear test site and the halting of long-range ballistic missile tests in a clear signal that his government was serious about discussing the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. This goodwill measure helped pave the way for a June summit in Singapore between Trump and Kim, after which Trump optimistically tweeted that “there is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea,” which Trump claimed was no longer America’s “The biggest and most serious problem.” as it was under President Obama. “Sleep well tonight!”Trump addressed the American people.
In February 2018, a second meeting was held in Hanoi, Vietnam. This followed the Singapore summit’s success. In exchange for dismantling the huge Yongbyon nuclear plant, it was anticipated that Trump and Kim would agree to partially lift sanctions against North Korea. While North Korea was prepared to enter into an agreement that provided for a step-by-step approach to its complete nuclear disarmament, Trump’s closest advisers insisted on it committing to complete disarmament, only after which sanctions would be lifted. North Korea felt betrayed by Trump’s administration at the Hanoi summit.
Trump tried to restart denuclearization negotiations with North Korea by meeting Kim at the DMZ separating North Korea and South Korea. He then crossed the demarcation line to become the US’s first sitting president to visit North Korea. But Trump’s political courage was not matched by his administration, with hardliners like National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo undermining any chance of an agreement being reached by insisting on hardline policy positions they knew to be unacceptable to North Korea. Trump’s term ended with denuclearization still possible.
But not dead.
Although the North Korean leadership remained open to negotiations, they initially refused to violate its pledge not to launch nuclear missiles nor test any of their nukes. The US still has not made any meaningful efforts to engage with Kim more than one year and half after the election of Joe Biden. This neglect paved the way for his decision to permanently close the door to denuclearization talks and certify North Korea’s nuclear arsenal as an integral and permanent part of its arsenal, one which could be employed pre-emptively if it were to ascertain a direct threat to its existence.
Trump may have been getting ahead of himself when he said Americans, Japanese, and South Koreans could “Good sleep is key to a good night’s rest” but it’s Biden and his administration who have made sure they can’t.
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