The Foal Eagle/Key Resolve joint military drill between the US and the Republic of Korea (ROK) kicked off on Apr. 1, 2018. The total number of the US and ROK military personnel participating in the drill is similar to that of previous years, but the number of strategic weapons used by the US has been reduced, and the drill time has been cut by half compared to that of last year. This is considered to be a signal that the US and the ROK hope to maintain the low tension on the Korean Peninsula before the inter-Korean summit in April and US-DPRK summit in May.
At present, the Korean Peninsula is witnessing the most relaxed atmosphere of the past decade, but different forces have very different attitudes about it.
Washington’s overall attitude is very uncertain. On the one hand, the Trump administration is preparing for the summit with Kim Jong-un. On the other hand, they believe that the adjustment of Pyongyang’s posture is the result of extreme pressure. Most people in the US advocate that the pressure should continue to be the main policy for the DPRK.
The ROK has played a positive role in creating this easing of tensions, but its ability to maintain the easing is relatively weak and therefore it is difficult for the ROK to master the US-ROK alliance, nor can it influence the US hawks.
If Washington firmly pursues a tough policy toward the DPRK in the future, Seoul will not be able to stop it. Instead, the ROK’s internal attitude towards the DPRK is also likely to be impacted by Washington’s attitude and it will start to follow the US on many issues.
Japan has always talked about the relaxation of the situation on the Korean Peninsula. Everybody knows that Tokyo feels that it is being marginalized. Japan is more concerned about its face, rather than the real situation on the Korean Peninsula. If the situation on the peninsula is tightened again, Tokyo will probably feel more comfortable because the US and the ROK will again seek support from Japan.
How much confidence does Pyongyang has in negotiating with the US and the ROK?This is hard to say.
However, a large part of Pyongyang’s confidence needs to be established by interaction with the US and the ROK. In other words, Pyongyang will expect more and more to resolve its security concerns through negotiations if the US and the ROK become more resolute in reaching an agreement through a fair and peaceful agreement.
Therefore, the US and the ROK should be lenient and try their best to keep a low profile of their joint drills so that Pyongyang can see the sincerity of Washington and Seoul.
The US and the ROK need to understand that the purpose of the DPRK’s nuclear attempt is security. If the US and the ROK do not make real efforts to improve DPRK’s security environment, and center on their own security interests instead, then denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula will be very bumpy. Even if an agreement is reached, it will be difficult to implement it.
Nuclear weapons cannot be eaten or drunk. The DPRK has paid a huge price to pursue its nuclear arsenal. From one perspective, it is caused by many complex reasons such as the fact that the peninsula still has an armistice agreement but no peace agreement.
Thoroughly resolving the nuclear issue will require eliminating as many factors as possible that cause Pyongyang’s serious sense of insecurity and normalizing the DPRK’s external security environment.
These issues cannot be resolved through a single negotiation. Long-term efforts are definitely required.
However, it is difficult for the US political system to provide stable support for the White House’s willingness to negotiate. The Trump administration is now willing to talk, but the president is obviously more concerned with his "political achievements." If the negotiation does not yield any outcome and the political capital of the current government might be consumed, the White House may categorically change its policy.
It can be seen that the current easing on the Korean Peninsula is still very fragile and needs the careful maintenance of all parties to prevent the situation from going backwards.
It would only be an illusion to think that the negotiations will soon achieve decisive progress or a package solution to the problem will be reached. We should be prepared for the possibility that the negotiations may become long-term psychological warfare. All parties should go in the same direction in order to realize the peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.
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