It seems like an unlikely alliance. One of them is a fanatic totalitarian with awful hair; the other is the ruler of North Korea. One of them hates America with a burning passion; the other wants to make it ‘Great Again’. With North Korea’s news agency – and implicitly, Kim Jong-Un – backing the 70 year old GOP nominee last week, could it prove a positive thing for the future of the world? Or, when combined with the support of Vladimir Putin, is it just another sign that Trump’s game of ‘Dictator Bingo’ seems to be continuing unabated?
The United States and North Korea have been engaged in a Cold War-style stand off since the end of the Korean War – with US forces in South Korea and US support for the government of the South. The North has retaliated by building a nuclear programme which it claims has the capability to launch an attack on North America. The Kim Dynasty have engaged in the suppression of their populace, and under their rule North Korea has become one of the least developed countries in the world – with one of the highest poverty rates. The thing that has united the North Korean populace behind the Kims has been an anti-American rhetoric and instilling both fear of America and pride in the North’s military.
So why would the North decide to back a potential President of their long-standing enemy?
Donald Trump has repeatedly indicated some support for the withdrawal of US troops from the Korean Peninsula and the North perceive this as a positive step for the potential of Korean unification. With the North having indicated their desire to open up talks over the reunification of Korea, and Trump having indicated a desire to engage in dialogue with Kim Jong-Un, it might well be that North Korea perceive their greatest chance of bringing the South to the table is through a Trump Presidency.
The backing of a crushingly totalitarian government with a horrific record on human rights will do nothing to improve Trump’s appeal to most American voters; while the sentiments that the North express over Trump’s desire to withdraw troops from South Korea will not go down well with hard-line Conservatives. More importantly, the endorsement of Kim Jong-Un suggests that Trump’s wielding of American hard power against the North will be significantly less than at present – allowing them the freedom to expand their nuclear arsenal and increasing the risk of a second Korean War.
Yet, could the Kim-Trump alliance actually spell good news for the world? For all his much-criticised domestic policy, could the GOP nominee have actually stumbled across a way to solve an American foreign policy dilemma that has existed since 1953?
With his implicit support for lessening American hard power in Korea, Trump could be in the process of ending a policy approach that has been unsuccessful since it began. American hard power in Korea has served only to increase the divisions between North and South and has given the Kim family a way to cement their control of the Hermit Kingdom. Additionally, despite their best efforts, the United States has been unable to prevent the North from pursuing the development of a nuclear programme.
By suggesting that he could be willing to engage the North in dialogue – a dialogue that the North is willing to open – Trump may be able to take the first steps towards true peace in Korea, and may be able to use soft power to coax the North Koreans into giving up their pursuit of further weapons of mass destruction. We saw the potential value of American-backed peace talks with the Camp David Accords, which ensured peace between Israel and Egypt, and in the Oslo Accords which saw President Clinton bring Palestine and Israel to the table. If a Trump presidency could bring the North and the South to the table, we could see the beginnings of a Korean peace process (and potentially reunification), which would be positive development for diplomatic relations between the two nations.
If Trump was able to open up the Hermit Kingdom to the world, it would be a major advance in securing world peace; any liberalisation of the North would be considered one of the biggest successes of American soft power in history.
Whether by luck or by design, Donald Trump has stumbled upon a foreign policy initiative with the potential to have a massive impact on world peace, and on the 25 million citizens of North Korea who languish in poverty. Rather than ridiculing Trump for achieving the support of Kim Jong-Un, perhaps the international media should be looking at the prospects such support could have for the future of North Korea – and in particular, the prospects it could have for increasing democracy and standard of living in the Hermit Kingdom in the long run. Maybe what Trump has shown is that – unlike previous Presidents – he acknowledges that America’s hard power hasn’t always had the intended effect, and that its soft power could be far more important in Korea.
For all his whacky domestic policy, if Donald Trump wins the presidency, US-North Korea relations will never have been closer – and potential dialogue between the two nations could be even more significant a breakthrough than Reagan and Gorbachev, or Obama and Castro in the pursuit of a more peaceful planet.