Opinion

Peace in Korea is still possible — just without America

Now that Trump has bailed, North Korea, South Korea, and China might actually be able to make their own peace deal

President Trump has abruptly canceled his much-hyped June 12 summit with North Korea in a baffling letter to Kim Jong Un in which he cited the latter's supposed "tremendous anger and open hostility." Given Trump's record of pervasive dishonesty and addle-brained rambling, it's anybody's guess what his actual thinking was.

Our allies seemed to have been caught off guard by Trump's missive. ("We are attempting to make sense of what, precisely, President Trump means," said South Korean government spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom.) But once they've had a chance to gather themselves, there's no reason why South Korea, North Korea, and China shouldn't go ahead with their own diplomatic agreement to officially end the Korean War and sketch out some kind of live-and-let-live agreement in the region. Indeed, under the Trump administration, the United States is a hindrance to peace, or indeed any sort of functioning diplomacy at all. If Trump had gone ahead with this North Korea summit, it's a virtual certainty that either he or his team would have botched it somehow. Cut America out of the loop, and you might actually get something done.

All parties can still benefit powerfully. On the South Korean side, they can resolve the terrifying decades-long standoff with their northern neighbor, restore a semblance of diplomatic relations, and reduce the military threat aimed at their nation. A total dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear weapons program is likely out of the question (and probably always was), but ballistic missile limitations and taking down the artillery emplacements aimed at Seoul is a reasonable ask.

On the North Korean side, they can get some relief from devastating sanctions, a partial return to ordinary nation status, and perhaps most importantly, get to appear magnanimous and statesmanlike. For an international pariah like Kim — and watching his performance at a recent visit to China — that latter possibility is surely an appealing one.

China (which would surely need to be involved as it is has by far the most leverage over North Korea) would get to resolve an obnoxious and destabilizing thorn in its side, gain prestige as the regional powerbroker while making the U.S. look foolish and incompetent, and even the juicy possibility of peeling off a close U.S. ally that is probably furious beyond words at Trump's betrayal. South Korean President Moon Jae-In has wagered enormous political capital on the possibility of some kind of rapprochement with North Korea, and is probably wondering just what the point of the American alliance is if he is going to be jerked around like this on his number one security priority.

Heck, Japan might want to get involved as well. They are only somewhat less threatened by North Korean saber-rattling, and may be figuring it's time to move towards a more neutral posture.

Obviously there is a lot of guesswork (and perhaps excessive optimism) involved in this argument, and even the leaders of these countries probably aren't sure themselves what they want to do yet. And after all, China and North Korea are ruthless dictatorships, and may not view peace as such a positive goal.

But even so, the logic is clear enough. And if some or all of these nations even make hesitant moves toward such a thing, it will demonstrate how Trump's flailing, herky-jerky incompetence is dissolving America's entire post-WWII foreign policy framework. As nations realize the United States cannot be trusted, a new day in international relations will dawn.

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