There are big things happening on the Korean peninsula. Today’s declaration of peace is a massive moment in Korean history, and it is being greeted with tremendous excitement (my wife, who is from Seoul, was physically jumping with joy at the news). You can understand why people are getting so worked up. After all, it’s the first time since 1950 that both countries will be formally at peace, and the spectacle of the two Korean leaders crossing the border while holding hands was an emotional sight. But at the risk of sounding contrarian, I can’t help but think that everyone needs to calm down a bit.
Yes, these talks are important – historic even – but they don’t necessarily spell the end of North Korea acting like a rogue state. Beyond a few soundbites, there’s no sign that Kim Jong-un has decided to switch from being a Stalin to a Gorbachev.
We need to remember that Kim is someone who has shown himself to be well-versed in the darkest arts of politics. He’s the sort of character who would thrive in Game of Thrones, massacring close family members who might pose a threat to him. This is a man who, just a few weeks ago, was holding the world to hostage, with warnings of imminent nuclear strikes against US territories in the Pacific. In short, he’s hardly someone who has shown himself to be ‘trustworthy’.
We have to ask why Kim has decided to come to the negotiating table. It’s very likely that his decision is not because international sanctions are starting to hit. Even if they are creating some economic pain, which is debatable, it’s clear things are nowhere near as bad for North Korea as they were during the famines of the 1990s.
So maybe, just maybe, Kim has had a big change of heart, and his willingness to cross the border is down to an earnest desire to change his country.