Coinciding with a visit to Washington by South Korean President Park Geun-hye, signs are emerging that tensions with North Korea may be easing up. North Korea removed two ballistic missiles from launch sites, and intelligence suggests the missiles are now in a non-operational state (that is, not ready to be fired). This is definitely a positive step, but there’s no telling how genuine it is.
Tensions on the Korean peninsula tend to have a cyclical character – North Korea does something provocative, such as conducting a nuclear test or sinking a South Korean naval vessel, the international community condemns the act(s), and to reduce tensions usually provides some much-needed aid. However, that game may be up.
“The days when North Korea could create a crisis and elicit concessions…are over,” President Obama said in a joint press conference with President Park. This is an interesting development in U.S. relations with the Korean peninsula.
With new – and relatively untested – leaders in North Korea, South Korea, and China, the potential for missteps is greater than it has been in the past. Each has to deal with their own domestic political considerations and prove they are strong leaders while at the same time working to avoid an all-out war. This new cast of characters may not be able to play the game as well as their predecessors did. As if navigating the conflict wasn’t hard enough already.
The purpose of President Park’s visit to Washington was to show relations between the two countries have never been stronger and to make sure Kim Jong Un is well aware the U.S. takes his provocations very seriously. For now, though, we can breathe a sigh of relief. It seems war is no longer an immediate concern.