How to Make Sense of What Happened On June 12, 2018


As the day, 12th June, 2018, comes to an end, a lot of people worldwide will be questioning the meaning of the word “historic”. Today, for the first time a sitting US president met with the supreme leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Since the date for this meeting was finalized, there was a lot of frenzy around what might be the likely outcomes of the summit. Media, throughout the world, had too contributed to the creation of an atmosphere of unparalleled sensationalism. However, did the content of the joint document signed by the two leaders delivered on that promise? Did or will the meeting yield any substantive results or go down in the history merely as moment of high rhetoric? Here is an analysis of what happened on this “historic” day.

In the recent history there has not been an occasion marked with equal drama and flip-flops as the just concluded meeting between president Trump and Kim Jong-un. For no other occasion has the word “historic” been used that frequently as it was for this meeting, and why not, for no one really expected it to actually happen. After exchanging words like “rocket man” or the frequent threats of “fire and fury”, the last thing that foreign policy pundits and political theorists expected was the scene of the two most unpredictable leaders shaking hands with each other and exchanging pleasantries as they posed for the cameras. However, finally the world did indeed witness those images. After much suspense around the contents of the signed agreement/document, when it was revealed to the public, it fell short of explaining the complicated roadmap to the ultimate aim of “denuclearisation” of the Korean peninsula. It is interesting to note that, notwithstanding its rich symbolic value, the event did not mark any major breakthrough as it only made further promises of working towards the stated aim of ensuring peace in the region.

After reading the joint document, one feels tempted to analyse it not on the basis of what it contained but rather on the basis of what it did not contain. While, prior to the meeting there was much hue and cry about the “Comprehensive, Verifiable, Irreversible disarmament (CVID)” of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal, the released document nowhere made any reference to CVID. Also, no clear deadline has been proposed for the denuclearisation process. So, in effect what has happened on this “historic” day is only the beginning of a process which, if everything goes well, might lead to a more peaceful future for the Korean peninsula. Thus, can one conclude that it is Kim who finally had his way? The answer to this question, however, is not so simple, for the process of denuclearisation involves complex procedures which not only requires time but also sustained commitment to the process. Thus, the Korean problem could not be reduced to the binaries of who won or lost. Several concessions have been made by both the parties. The most notable among these is the statement by president Trump announcing the suspension of the “war games” with its ally South Korea. As a confidence building measure, he has also shown willingness to reduce in numbers, the thirty two thousand US troops stationed in South Korea.

Similarly, Kim had been making certain concessions right from the day the summit level meeting was announced. He had released several US prisoners of war and also destroyed a major missile testing facility leading to the summit. Despite of these concessions, one thing is clear that through this meeting the global isolation of DPRK has formally come to an end. This is indeed the biggest take away for North Korea from this summit, as it has been able to not just shun away the tag of a “pariah state” but also gain legitimacy for itself.


Going forward it is pertinent for both the US as well as North Korea to remain fully committed to the causes/promises outlined in the Singapore Summit. What lies ahead is a complex and delicate road to achieve a long lasting and sustained peace. North Korea would certainly hope for the early conclusion of treaties pertaining to the formal end of the 1950 Korean war, guarantee of regime security and relief from debilitating economic sanctions, while the US and particularly Trump would be eager to get the deal done on complete denuclearisation. It will also be important to see how Trump reacts or tweets once he lands on the US soil as he will be under fire from his critiques for signing a ‘fruitless deal’.

Earlier, Trump had been the most vociferous critique of the Iran deal, claiming that it had brought no benefits to the US, hence, now his critiques would target him on similar lines as this summit has not resulted into any outright statement over the destruction of North Korean missiles capable of hitting the US mainland. Meanwhile, countries all over the world, including major powers such as Russia, Japan, China and India have welcomed the joint document. Lastly, one can only conclude by saying that it will be wise to keep the fingers crossed as a very complicated roadmap lies ahead. It will also be desirable to remain extra cautious given the inherent unpredictability these two leaders.

Contributed by Kunwar Suryansh

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