Last week, the White House confirmed that the president will once again meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to discuss denuclearization.
The meeting is supposed to take place before the end of next month, although an official date and location have not yet been established. Many suspect, however, that Hanoi, Vietnam will eventually be chosen.
Pressure for verifiable and enforceable terms for denuclearization are higher than ever after a previously undeclared secret ballistic missile base was discovered in North Korea.
Critics of the president’s handling of the situation have pointed out that the delay in negotiations gave North Korea a window of opportunity to expand, rather than dismantle, its nuclear program as U.S. scrutiny of the nation lessened.
Both nations are still at a loggerhead over the issue of sanctions; North Korea wants them lifted before any serious dismantling of their program occurs, and the U.S. wants proof of denuclearization prior to lifting sanctions.
Kim has previously warned that if the U.S. does not make some concessions regarding sanctions, North Kora will seek a “new path.”
As Charlie Campbell points out in his piece for TIME Magazine, sanctions relief is a coin with two sides. On the one hand, lifting his people out of poverty would be tremendous progress, but it would come at the cost of opening a historically insular society to the rest of the world, a possibility Kim and his predecessors have always shunned.
In his piece, Campbell draws on the perspective of Sung-Yoon Lee, a professor of Korean Studies at The Fletcher School at Tufts University in Massachusetts, who argues that a formal end to the Korean War could actually increase the risk of additional military action.
“The danger of war, paradoxically, spikes by signing on to a pleasant-sounding peace agreement.” — Lee
If Kim can officially end the Korean War, Lee argues, it would nullify virtually any justification for stationing U.S. troops in the region, which would leave North Korea largely unchecked and South Korea quite vulnerable.
According to reporting by the New York Times, the president ordered the Pentagon to begin preparing for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Korea as early as May of last year.
“Act two of a Shakespearean tragedy-in-the-making opens next month in Hanoi.” — Lee