Today’s sixty-fifth anniversary of the signing of the Korean armistice is fueling speculation that an official end to the war may be forthcoming. There is value in signaling intent toward such a treaty in the future, but it would be foolhardy for the United States to rush into dismantling the armistice and the relative stability it has provided—especially before North Korea has undertaken any significant denuclearization.
It is self-evident that of the two prongs of its North Korea policy, the Trump administration has invested a great deal more thought and energy into “maximum pressure” than it has into “engagement.” Six weeks out from the June 12 Singapore summit, both President Donald Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un are reportedly disappointed with the rate of progress that negotiations have produced. Recent satellite imagery that purportedly shows North Korea dismantling its Sohae Satellite Launching Station provides just a glimmer of any meaningful step toward denuclearization.
The glacial pace of progress comes as little surprise to most U.S. experts who were understandably concerned about the lack of preparation prior to the historic meeting between Trump and Kim. Summitry certainly gave the two adversarial leaders an opportunity to break the ice and initiate diplomacy, but it was not going to resolve decades of hostility or bring North Korea’s treasured nuclear program to a grinding halt. Indeed, North Korea’s negotiation strategy is predicated on using détente as a means of demanding more for doing next to nothing. Clearly, Pyongyang delayed the promised return of the remains of some U.S. servicemen missing in action to reinforce the anniversary of the armistice it hopes to replace.
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