The inter-Korean summit was a welcome development, but it remains to be seen what will come of it:
The leaders of North and South Korea reaffirmed their commitment to “complete denuclearisation” in their high-stakes summit on Friday, but failed to announce any concrete steps to dismantle Pyongyang’s nuclear programmes.
The summit was an important step in the direction of resolving outstanding conflicts between the two Koreas and between the U.S. and North Korea, and President Moon should be commended for taking the risks to make this possible. South Korea’s efforts at engagement have succeeded in reducing tensions with North Korea over the last few months, and Moon deserves credit for that. Pledges to bring a formal end to the Korean War are certainly very welcome, and the U.S. should do what it can to encourage rapprochement between Pyongyang and Seoul and stay out of their way as much as possible.
The same obstacles on the nuclear weapons issue remain. The joint statement affirms the two governments’ support for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, but that still seems unlikely to happen. That shouldn’t stop other improvements in relations from going ahead, and it shouldn’t stop the U.S. from supporting a peace treaty that will formally end the war. A formal peace and the beginning of normalization of relations are both possible if none of the parties insists on making unrealistic demands.
It is regrettable that it has taken almost thirty years since the end of the Cold War to start the process of concluding one of the earliest Cold War conflicts. There is now an opening to do this if all of the parties are prepared to make the necessary concessions. The risk in any peace negotiation is that hard-liners from one or more sides will try to sabotage a mutually beneficial compromise, and my fear is that hard-liners in the U.S. and especially in the current administration will try to undermine Moon by shouting “appeasement” as often and as loudly as possible. The danger with so many hard-liners around Trump is that this administration will squander the opportunity that Moon has given them because they don’t value or understand diplomacy.