The Zeitgeist
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The Zeitgeist

Apr. 22-Apr. 28: The Korean War Coming To An End?

This week, the leaders of South Korea and North Korea met and shocked the world by vowing to formally end the 68 year long Korean War.

Welcome to the Zeitgeist Chronicle. Every weekend we catch you up on the past week’s most noteworthy current events. Sometimes it’ll be what everybody’s talking about, other times it may be something we’d like to bring attention to. Our goal is keep you informed enough to be able to have a conversation about any of these current events. This week:

What Happened

(Image via: CNBC)

This past week, on April 27th, North Korea Leader Kim Jong-Un met with South Korea President Moon Jae-In at Panmunjom, a “peace village” in the Demilitarized Zone on the Korean Peninsula. The historic, day-long summit included a symbolic tree-planting, an extended private conversation between the two men, and last but certainly not least, the signing of the Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification on the Korean Peninsula.

The declaration, while lacking in specific detail, “commits the two countries to denuclearization and talks to bring a formal end to conflict.” The two sides agreed to, among other things, “encourage more active cooperation, exchanges, visits and contacts at all levels in order to rejuvenate the sense of national reconciliation and unity”, “resolve the humanitarian issues that resulted from the division of the nation”, and “completely cease all the hostile acts against each other in every domain including land, air and sea, that are the sources of military tension and conflict.”

How We Got Here

This is a stunning turn of events. Yes, North and South Korea came together for the Winter Olympics, and yes, North Korea promised to freeze their nuclear program last week, but this was still not something that was thought of as probable, despite all of that. In fact, many were skeptical of both of these gestures at the time, and some are skeptical of this gesture.

The Korean War began in 1950 when North Korea invaded South Korea. Subsequently, the U.S. aided South Korea, while China backed North Korea. A armistice was then signed three years later that halted the war and created the Demilitarized Zone that exists today. The keyword here is halt, which is different than end. Because no peace treaty was ever signed, North and South Korea technically remained at war all this time.

This is partially why there is still skepticism. Similar attempts have been made in the past, but none of them took, for various reasons. Because of the aforementioned history, the U.S. and China would both need to agree, too, for this to truly end. And this attempt, while historic, has more show than substance. The declaration reads much more as a statement of common goals than what it is each side is going to do towards those goals.

A cynic could argue that this could be performative means to the end of reducing the strength of South Korea’s alliance with the United States, before hostilities against South Korea. A strategic feint, so to speak. The optimist would say that while this declaration lacks specifics, it’s nonetheless a step in the right direction, which cannot be understated when the alternative is nuclear warfare.

What’s To Come

The next big mile marker is the North Korea-U.S. summit, which Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump agreed to last month. This comes after countless provocative North Korean missile tests, jabs at each other through the media, insults like “dotard” and “little rocket man”, and a public squabble about who sports the bigger nuclear button.

One would think that this week’s events gives Trump more room for error, which is always a good thing, but there’s a reason some dubbed this meeting the “Madman Summit.” We have since learned that Kim Jong Un has agreed to publically dismantle his nuclear arsenal as long as the U.S. promises not to invade North Korea, which means the ball is now in Trump’s court.

All that being said, we should live in the present, and as of this week, things are looking up.

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Howard Chai

Howard Chai

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I strive towards a career that ends up leaving me somewhere between Howard Beck and Howard Beale.