A bitter dispute between South Korea and Japan over compensation for Korean victims of Japan’s war crimes escalated last week when Seoul announced that it would terminate a 2016 bilateral agreement with Tokyo to share classified military intelligence. The unprecedented move drew howls of outrage from US officials and analysts that were reflected in a Washington Post headline stating that the decision “was a blow to US security interests.”
But for South Korean president Moon Jae-In, the move is a declaration of independence from a U.S.-brokered alliance with Japan. Moon, who is trying to coax North Korea’s Kim Jong-Il and President Trump into a denuclearization deal, is asserting national pride over long-standing security agreements that ignore Korean interests.
Moon’s move was supported by Yoo Kang-moon, an analyst for Hankyoreh, a leading Seoul daily.
After Donald Trump became president of the US, American leadership dried up. Trump’s emphasis on “America first” caused the value of alliances in many parts of the world to plummet. Rather than complimenting the South Korea-US alliance, Trump has grumbled about the money being spent on maintaining the American troop presence there and on carrying out joint military exercises. Trump has disregarded Japan’s attempt to revise its “peace constitution” and its movement down the road toward militarism. Japan’s military expansion recalls its history of aggression, which cannot coexist with friendly relations with South Korea. At the very least, there are already indications that trilateral security cooperation among South Korea, Japan, and the US is coming undone.
The howls of protest from the hawks of Washington and Japan come from the same sources who worry about Moon’s steadfast denuclearization diplomacy. They want to maintain the status quo in northwest Asia, while Moon recognizes that dependence on the United States during the reign of Trump is risky.
South Korea seeks to build a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula by improving inter-Korean relations and through cooperation with China and the US. Japan seeks to join the US’ Indo-Pacific Strategy, aimed at containing China, while throwing off the shackles of its peace constitution and becoming a military power. South Korea-Japan relations have been stranded in that process, and their exact coordinates remain unknown.
South Korea standing up for itself isn’t a bad thing.
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats is in South Korea meeting with President Moon Jae-in. Moon is trying to coax Trump into an agreement with North Korea that will end the Korea war and gradually denuclearize the Korean peninsula.
Ahead of his visit to Cheong Wa Dae, Coats and South Korean National Intelligence Service (NIS) chief Suh Hoon discussed ways to break the continued impasse in nuclear talks after last month’s failed Hanoi summit, two sources with direct knowledge of the talks said.
If there’s one thing Democrats agree on, it is that President Trump’s very brief visit to the Korean Demilitarized Zone to shake hands with North Korean leader is a “photo op” not a substantive move, a stunt not diplomacy.
Kamala Harris said it. Elizabeth Warren said it. Former Obama adviser Ben Rhodes said it. So did Max Boot, one of the leading advocates on invading Iraq in 2003. On North Korea, these Democrats siding with the Washington hawks who have advocated endless war in pursuit of “national security.”
The question is, Why?
One person who didn’t say criticize the meeting was South Korea’s president Moon Jae-In who accompanied Trump to the DMZ . Moon, whose statecraft over the last two years, has largely been ignored by Democrats and the Washington press corps, is a liberal who has staked his presidency on coaxing a deal out of two mercurial authoritarians. What Moon is trying to secure is nothing less than world historic: a formal end to the Korean war and the negotiated denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
You might think liberal Democrats would support Moon’s liberal peace agenda, if not Trump’s. They’re so Washington-centric, they don’t even seem to know about it. Instead of talking about South Korea’s aspirations for peace, they recycle the talking points of Washington’s hawks.
The “photo op” the Democrats deride was, in Moon’s view, a “significant milestone” on the road to peace. After the failure of Hanoi summit in February due to the maximalist demands of Trump’s adviser John Bolton, the chance for resolving the dangerous six decade-long impasse between North and South Korea seemed to be slipping away.
Moon helped keep peace alive, by meeting with Dan Coats, director of national intelligence. He knew the handshake was coming before it happened and he welcomed it.
their meeting today, the South and North Korean leaders and the American leader
made history,” Yoon Do-han, Moon’s press secretary, said after the border
handshake was hailed by Hankyoreh,
South Korea’s leading left-liberal newspaper as a key step toward ending the
Cold War on the Korean peninsula.
The convergence of these three leaders at a single place was a historic meeting on a different level from an inter-Korean summit or a North Korea-US summit. It can be seen as the result of Moon’s proactive and indefatigable role as facilitator, as the South Korean president is determined to sit in the driver’s seat on Korean Peninsula issues.“
The conservative Seoul newspaper, Joon Ang Daily, also endorsed the meeting.
“Such a hurriedly arranged meeting naturally could not bring any dramatic breakthrough in bilateral relations or the denuclearization process. Still, the more the leaders meet, the greater the chances are for a positive outcome in the future. Mutual trust is built through constant contact and communication.”
No, the handshake is not an agreement but it has restored the diplomatic track, by signaling all three leaders want some kind of deal. The Trump administration now reportedly considering a freeze in North Korea’s nuclear program as a first step in a peace agreement. Working level talks will resume later this month.
While hawks denounce the freeze as acceptance of North Korea as a nuclear state, it is only tacit recognition of the reality that North Korea—like Iran—is not going to surrender its nuclear option without securing real benefits.
Indeed, all of the
arguments in favor of the Iran nuclear deal—unanimously
supported by the Democratic candidates—apply to the Korean negotiations. Carefully
negotiated international agreements can make the world safer. Resolving issues
of both nuclear arms and human rights in one agreement is impossible. A real
deal will require real concessions by both sides. And, an imperfect agreement with
an undemocratic regime that curbs the nuclear danger is better than doing nothing. The fact that
Trump was foolish to tear up the Iran nuclear deal does not negate any of these
realities. It confirms them.
The last two months
have shown that Trump, with an eye on his lousy
poll numbers going into the 2020 election, understands that making peace is
good politics, and making war is a recipe for rejection by American voters
tired of endless wars.
On Venezuela, Trump lost interest in “regime change” as soon as the Pompeo/Bolton fantasy of a quick victory evaporated. U.S. policy verged on the farcical. A scheme concocted by Bolton’s NSC to bribe Maduro’s inner circle into supporting opposition leader Juan Guaido fell apart. Guaido’s hastily improvised April 29 call for the Venezuelans to rise up against the government failed. With military intervention as the only remaining option to enforce the bully-boy demands of Pompeo and Bolton, Trump has walked away from his own policy, reportedly muttering about how Bolton wants to get him “into a war.”
Trump doesn’t care if he looks foolish or inconsistent. But what about the five Democratic presidential candidates who effectively endorsed the Venezuela policy he has now abandoned? They look more war-like than the president, a dubious proposition going into the 2020 election.
On Iran, Trump approved an attack on Iranian military positions for downing an unmanned U.S. drone that would have killed 150 people. When Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson pointed out, probably correctly, that attacking Iran would doom his reelection prospects, Trump cancelled the attack he ordered, saying that it would have been “disproportionate.”
Now Trump has torn up the playbook that has ruled U.S. Korea policy for decades. That playbook calls for North Korea to eliminate its nuclear arsenal before the United States lifts sanctions and agrees to an end to the Korean war. Such a maximalist approach offers nothing to South Koreans living under the threat of war, which is why President Moon and the South Korean press are supporting Trump.
Bernie Sanders had a more measured response to Trump’s “photo op,” which did not echo the talking points of Washington hawks but focused on Trump’s ability to finish the deal.
“I don’t have a problem with him sitting
down and negotiating with our adversaries,” Sanders said on ABC’s “This
Week.” I don’t want it to be a photo opportunity. We need real
“Real diplomacy” is what President Moon has
been quietly practicing and what Democrats should support. Whether Trump is
capable of deal that puts the Koreas on a path to peace is, of course, open to
question, especially with Bolton at his side. The national security adviser has
opposed every effort to negotiate with North Korea over the last 30 years and
has often said “regime change” is the only solution.
Given the choice between Trump’s opportunism and Bolton’s intransigence, Moon’s diplomacy is the best bet for securing peace and protecting U.S. interests. It’s also good politics for 2020. Trump knows that. Do the Democrats?
Maybe the U.S.-Korea denuclearization talks aren’t dead after all. President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un have exchanged friendly letters and Trump is headed to South Korea for a visit.
These developments are boost for South Korean president Moon Jae-in who has facilitated the on-again, off-again negotiations of the two mercurial leaders.
With talks stalled, tension mounted last month when the North test-fired a series of short-range ballistic missiles, though Trump and South Korea both played down the tests. One June 11, Trump said he had received a very warm, “beautiful” letter from Kim, adding he thought something positive would happen. North Korea’s state news agency KCNA said on Sunday Kim had received a letter from Trump, which he described as being “of excellent content”, but did not disclose any details.
South Korean president Moon Jae-in will visit President Trump in the White House today, the latest step on his long and winding and still unfinished journey toward the goal on which he has bet his presidency: denuclearization and disarmament on the Korean peninsula.
As I’ve said before, parochial Americans, obsessed with the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and their own mercurial leader, Donald Trump, have failed to appreciate the South Korean president who is much more admirable than both of them.
That may be changing with a new article published The National Interest, a Washington foreign policy journal that depicts Moon as a “miracle” worker.
“Miracle” may be premature. Moon has powerful enemies lurking in Washington, namely Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton, who is seeking to control U.S. policy. But it is indisputable that Moon has taken on the mind bending task of coaxing these two inexperienced (and personally weird) leaders into a historic peace agreement. And he’s made more progress than anyone might have expected.
Moon’s mission in Washington this week, according to authors Harry Kazianias and Daniel DePetris.
It will be important for Moon to know if Bolton is truly just the voice of an administration trying to project an image of strength, or whether he is truly the man driving the administration’s negotiation strategy.
Moon will need to ask some hard questions, they say.
He must know if Washington is truly serious about offering absolutely zero sanctions relief until full denuclearization—something that could take a decade or more to achieve—or if there is some middle ground that could be found. We would suspect that most in the administration—besides John Bolton—would be open to at least a small compromise on this issue.
And he will need to craft a compromise solution that can restart the talks that failed in Hanoi in February. He, not Trump, not Kim, is the key to peace on the Korean peninsula.