Last June, President Donald Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) met to discuss how to improve relations between the United States and North Korea. On June 12, 2018, they signed a document, known as the Singapore Declaration, that broadly mentioned that the U.S. would normalize relations with North Korea in exchange for “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula”. President Trump claims that the meeting was highly productive and that their “conversation was open, honest, [and] direct… we produced something that is beautiful”. However, President Trump’s beautiful document does not appear to have much influence on actual policy.
President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have continued to herald the Singapore Declaration, claiming that Kim Jong Un and President Trump created a personal connection and that North Korea has begun to take action, returning the remains of American soldiers and dismantling a satellite launch site. However, these steps on behalf of North Korea mask the actual lack of progress and underlying worsening of the nuclear problem. In the weeks following the summit, North Korea reportedly upgraded nuclear and missile facilities, built new long-range missiles, created more fuel at secret sites for nuclear bombs, and investigated methods of hiding its weapons from the U.S..
Experts in foreign diplomacy site the Singapore Declaration itself as the source of the lack of progress. The document, which was barely over 400 words long, was very vague and did not state whether the U.S. would normalize relations with North Korea first or if North Korea would denuclearize before the U.S. took action. This has resulted in neither country taking appreciable steps toward progress as both think that the other should act first. According to Sue Mi Terry, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the United States is “asking North Korea to move first, and North Korea is asking the United States to take the next step… right now, we are absolutely stuck”. This dilema may have been avoided if the Singapore Declaration was more specific and delineated an exact series of steps for each country to follow, preventing delays and addressing potential pitfalls before they get out of hand.
In the past, successful foreign diplomats have extensively outlined a plan of action to combat complicated problems between countries. For example, the old arms control agreements between the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the Cold War were tens of pages long and clearly described the rules and steps each side would take to reduce weapons program.
Bruce Klingner, a senior research fellow with the conservative Heritage Foundation, notes that the current situation between the U.S. and North Korea is similar to that between the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and that politicians can learn a lesson through the way these issues were handled in the past. He notes that “we didn’t trust [the Soviets]... but by having very extensive carefully delineated text, we could move forward on capping and thinning down weapons programs”
In the meantime, progress in the relationship between the United States and North Korea continue to stall and steadily worsen. Last week, satellite photos revealed an active North Korean missile base near the border of South Korea. The U.S. has asked North Korea to declare these bases, but this request has not been granted. In addition, Kim Jong Un has pressured the U.S. to drop sanctions ahead of North Korean denuclearization activities, which the U.S. has refused to do.
According to Sig Hecker, a physicist at Stanford University, this is a crucial time to make amends with North Korea as Kim Jong Un is seeking economic development and President Trump a foreign policy success. If both countries work together and focus more on acknowledging the details of implementing the Singapore Declaration, historic progress can be made. The current tensions between the U.S. and North Korea will not be diffused passively; action must be taken by our leaders so that peace becomes a reality and not simply a wish implied by a vague and ineffective document.
Kate Lee is a contributor to The Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at Katherine.firstname.lastname@example.org.