Emma Emeozor; [email protected]
The brinkmanship between United States President Donald Trump and his North Korean counterpart, Kim Jong-un, over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme eventually ended with the two leaders pumping hands after an agreement was reached at a landmark summit hosted by Singapore.
Until the summit held on Tuesday, June 12, the world was gripped with fear of a possible nuclear war following the show of force exhibited by the two countries. It is significant to note that, prior to the meeting, both leaders were unable to trust one another but painstaking efforts to cross the ‘valley’ made it possible to hold successfully. The fact that an American president and a North Korean president could discuss face-to-face underscored the importance of a peaceful world to humanity.
The highlight of the summit was the signing of an agreement that Trump described as a “pretty comprehensive” and “very important” document. While Trump declared that “the world has become safer,” Kim said the “world will now see major change.”
As the international community basked in the euphoria that trailed the summit, foreign affairs analyst, Amadu Sesay, a professor at the Centre for Peace and Strategic Studies, University of Ilorin, Kwara State, took a look at the outcome of the summit, the implications for the two countries’ allies and the international community.
Some analysts have said the outcome of the summit is a ‘win-win’ for both America and North Korea on the premise that Pyongyang has agreed to denuclearisation while Washington is ready to lift sanctions and improve bilateral relations.
In aligning with the “win-win” school of thought, Sesay noted that every leader has, first and foremost, the national interest of his or her country above all other issues and considerations. According to him, “In classical international relations, the national interest is what justifies the existence of the state, it is the reason of state and the reason of state actually has to do with the protection of the national interest.
“So, if Kim and Trump believe that it is in their best of national interest to meet, from that angle, I could say they have achieved the purpose. What is important is that both leaders believe that they will achieve something from the summit for their respective countries.”
Buttressing his standpoint, Sesay cited the US-South Korea joint military exercises in the Korean Peninsula: “From the American end, the military exercise that was to take place between it and South Korea has been cancelled. Trump has, of course, said the exercise was costing his country a lot of money. Therefore, if he could save money by talking to Kim and try to promote good relations between America and North Korea and between North Korea and South Korea, that is a very important issue.”
But does North Korea’s readiness to denuclearise translate to the world becoming safer as expressed by Trump?
Sesay said: “That assumes that the agreement will last, Trump may have seen that North Korea will be sincere with its promise to dismantle its nuclear weapons.”
The professor was, however, quick to ask “if North Korea is not going to be sincere about dismantling its nuclear weapons, how will the world become safer? Because that can only infuriate America, and Trump who is so unpredictable will then decide to do something drastic. And if this should happen, the world is not going to be safe.
“The world is going to be safe on the premise that North Korea will honour its own side of the bargain. But I think, for now, it is still an open-ended agreement; after all, states are sovereign.
But what does Sesay mean when he says states are sovereign? “When states believe that a key national interest is involved, they may even want to go to war to defend it. Countries have gone to war in the not-too-distant past to defend their national interest. It does not matter how much sacrifice they are going to make to do that. They would always find a way to do so.”
But Sesay still wondered how Trump could have concluded that the world has become safer. “I think that was also rhetoric. Why does he think that the world has become safer? Because, after all, it takes two to tango. Even if Trump is sincere in his heart, he cannot vouch for Kim. One of the most difficult things in this world is knowing the true intentions of anybody, including relations between a man and his wife.”
Sesay expressed worry over the announcement that North Korea would start major denuclearisation in 2020. “You don’t consummate an agreement in two years. In my opinion, the two years waiting period is too long. Two days in politics is like three years. Anything can take place, more so when the American president is largely unpredictable.”
The professor seems to liken the exercise to a sort of “gamble.” “For the first time, a North Korean president has met with an American president, is it a gamble, I really don’t know. It could as well be a gamble for the American president but, as they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained. So, let us see how things unfold. “
If it is a “win-win” for Washington and Pyongyang, what is the implication of the outcome of the summit for South Korea? Sesay gave some insight into the life of Seoul since the military stand-offs with Pyongyang.
“South Koreans have been captives, they solely depend on America for their defence since they cannot defend themselves alone.
“Whatever the White House tries to do in the interest of Americans may not necessarily be, in the long term, in the interest of the South Koreans. For now, the South Koreans have no option but to agree with whatever the Americans say.
“If they say no, what are they going to do? Are they going to defend themselves? Are they going to dialogue effectively with the North Koreans? I’m not really sure.”
The Trump-Kim summit was not a tea party after all. Sesay agrees. He believes that Kim agreed to meet with Trump following what he described as America’s“credible threat.” “We have seen that what actually brought Kim to the negotiation table was the threat issued by America, especially when you have an unpredictable president in the White House. Anything can happen. So, people are beginning to argue now that it was the threat that actually led to the summit.
“From that angle, I don’t imagine that South Koreans can handle the North alone. The South Koreans have been in that situation for the last 50 years or even more. They have been captives to America since the end of the Korean War. It is America and some NATO allies that have actually protected the independence of South Korea, otherwise, North Korea could have seized the entire country.”
How about Japan, another country facing North Korea’s threat? Sesay said: “Japan is another captive state when it comes to defence. But its own situation is not as precarious as that of South Korea.”
He said the Japanese are concerned because they do not want to be betrayed by America. Asked how? The professor responded thus: “If America acts in line with Trump’s slogan of “America First,”and Japan is not in a position to defend itself against a perceived enemy, especially China, the agreement will not be in its interest. This is why they are consulting with America to make sure that America was not going to leave them out in the cold while trying to settle with North Korea.”
It is curious that Trump had to adopt peaceful measures to persuade Kim into accepting a programme of denuclearisation while he has not only rejected the Iran nuclear deal signed by his predecessor, Barack Obama, but has also gone ahead to impose further sanctions on Iran. Why the double standards?
Sesay believes that “Trump is suffering from what can be described as Obamaphobia. He is trying to reverse some of the landmark achievements of Obama.
“I think he is annoyed with the fact that a black man was in the White House. But, he could not change that anymore. So, what he is trying to do is to undermine all the achievements of Obama, including the Iran nuclear agreement,” he said.
Sesay argued that “if the Iran nuclear agreement was not really a serious one, the European allies would not have defended it. They have disagreed with Trump on this. And they are ready to risk it. Already, they have said they are going to support their companies over America’s sanctions if they are interested in doing business with Iran. That simply proves that America is alone.”
Sesay recalled that the Iranians have said they want to “use their nuclear capability for peaceful purposes.” But the Americans, who are being prompted by the Israelis, will not accept that. When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a bizarre press conference explaining the data the Israeli Secret Service has stolen from the Iranians, the West and indeed everybody said what the prime minister said was not new, it was already in the public domain and it has been there for more than six or seven years. But Netanyahu knew what he was doing.
“He knew that Trump is deeply committed to Israel. What he did was to give Trump the weapon that he could use to justify rejecting the agreement,” he said.
As it is now, what will be the implications of North Korea’s denuclearisation for the international community? Will the example of North Korea discourage other countries from developing nuclear weapons? Sesay said it depends on whether North Korea sticks to the letter of the agreement.
But more importantly, “it depends on the type of nations that we are talking about. After all, the Japanese have the capacity to assemble nuclear weapons in 48 hours. But the West is not talking about Japan, Israel has nuclear weapons, nobody is talking about it. So, when you consider the plight of South Korea and Japan, you will see that the summit and its outcome are in their best interest as peace is likely to return to the Korean Peninsular.”
Sesay believes that Nigeria’s neighbours will not be averse to it having nuclear weapons for peaceful purposes “because everybody knows that Nigeria does not pose a threat to any of its neighbours. And if Nigeria were to be a threat to its neighbours, it does not need nuclear weapons, for example, to take over Benin Republic.”
In the case of Iran, Sesay said “the Americans believe that Iran is an influential power in the Middle East and it may not be able to use its nuclear capability for only peaceful purposes.
“That is where the danger is. It is a question of credibility and we also know that one of Iran’s enemy’s is Israel. And Israel happens to be the hope of America. Every American president has come out very strongly to support Israel. In the case of Trump, his son-in-law is a Jew from Israel. That is the connection.”
Asked to assess Trump and Kim against the background of their known traits as political leaders, Sesay said: “one thing we must know is that Trump believes that a meeting between him and Kim will earn him a Noble Peace Prize. It is a competition of sorts, Obama won a Noble Prize. Trump also wants to win a prize. He has said openly, his officials have also said it openly. But will he get it? I really don’t know.”
On the impression that Kim is stubborn. Sesay said “you cannot say a leader is stubborn if that leader is protecting the best interest of his country as he sees it. If he believes he is getting nuclear weapons to deal with a hostile country like America that is supporting South Korea, I don’t think I would call it stubbornness. For me, that is determined leadership. You know what you want and you go after it.
“I am not sure, if North Korea was a weakling, whether America would have been serious about meeting with its leader. The North Koreans also presented a credible threat that America could not neutralise by the use of force. The only way it could neutralise it or the only way it could improve relations was to sit down around the conference table and discuss their differences and find a middle belt in a way beneficial to both countries.
“I am not saying here that spending money on a nuclear programme at the expense of health and other socio-economic issues is justifiable but we should also be aware that there is a lot of waste and propaganda and vilification of North Korea.”
But what does Sesay think about all the noise about nations’ acquiring nuclear weapons? Hear him: “Let me put it this way. The Soviet Union was a nuclear power but that did not stop it from disintegrating. And that is actually the basis of the new definition of security. If you have a nuclear pile now, your security will not be secured by nuclear weapons.
“Rather, security is secured by paying attention to the basic needs of the people, making sure that citizens have access to jobs, electricity, water, food, shelter and good life generally. In fact, the new security issues or the challenge of security now is within countries. I think the wrangling between Trump and Kim was actually very unfashionable.”