On May 24, the White House and President Trump announced that the U.S. would be calling off the long-anticipated peace summit with North Korean and South Korean leadership in Singapore. According to a letter sent to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un from President Trump, the U.S. decided to cancel the summit, which would have taken place next month, due to the “tremendous anger and open hostility” of a recent statement issued by North Korea. While Trump has since hinted that the summit may yet happen, his letter deserves examination as his take on North Korea’s “hostility” lacks important context.
Indeed, the “hostility” of North Korea may be viewed as a direct response to statements made by high-ranking members of the Trump administration, including Trump himself, that explicitly referenced the so-called “Libya model” of denuclearization. The remarks referenced by Trump’s letter were aimed directly at Vice President Mike Pence, who had discussed implementation of the “Libya model” in an interview with FOX News last Monday, leading North Korea to call Pence a “political dummy” and his comments “stupid” and “impudent.”
Pence was the latest U.S. official to make such comments. In recent weeks, Trump himself stated that the Libya model “was total decimation. That model would take place if we don’t make a deal.” In late April, National Security Adviser John Bolton had been the first administration official to reference the “Libya model” where he mentioned Libya as the administration’s road map for the denuclearization of North Korea on several different television programs.
The reference to Libya provoked North Korean leadership given that the U.S. government supported the overthrow of Libya’s government after its former leader, Muammar Gaddafi, had dismantled its early-stage nuclear program at the behest of the United States. The destruction of Libya turned the country, which once boasted the highest standard of living in all of Africa, into a failed state and saw Gaddafi brutally sodomized with a bayonet before being shot by U.S.-backed jihadists.
“It is essentially a manifestation of an awfully sinister move to impose on our dignified state the destiny of Libya or Iraq, which had been brought down due to yielding the whole of their countries to big powers,” North Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan said in a statement.
At the time of the U.S.-backed overthrow of Libya’s government, a North Korean official stated that “the Libyan crisis is teaching the international community a grave lesson,” namely that U.S.-brokered attempts at nuclear disarmament are ultimately “an invasion tactic to disarm” countries. The so-called “Libya model” has since been cited by U.S. officials as the likely motivation behind North Korea’s decision to become a full-fledged nuclear power.
The comments regarding Libya have not been the only actions recently taken by the U.S. that North Koreans have cited as provocative and unproductive in light of the peace talks. Indeed, another major point of contention has been the large military exercise currently being held by the U.S. and South Korea, which North Korea has claimed is an imitation of an invasion of its country and a “deliberate military provocation.” The exercise reportedly had initially included nuclear-capable B-52 bombers and F-15K jets.
While the widespread mention of the “Libya model” and the recent military drill together suggest that the U.S. may have sabotaged the talks, Trump seemed to walk back from suggestions that the peace talks would be canceled for good. A few hours after the letter was sent, Trump stated that he “held up hope” that the summit could be rescheduled for another date, leading some to suggest that Trump’s letter was a tactic aimed at giving the U.S. an advantage in future negotiations.
However, the Trump administration’s decision to cancel the summit indicates that its top officials prefer a military solution to tensions on the Korean peninsula. Chief among those officials is Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton.
In recent years, Bolton has repeatedly argued that “regime change” was the only “diplomatic” solution left that could be used to denuclearize the Korean peninsula and he is well known for his role in sabotaging past agreements aimed at denuclearizing North Korea while serving in the Bush administration.
Beyond Bolton, obstructions of the Korea peace summit have come from elsewhere such as the U.S. military. Were peace achieved, there would be little reason to maintain the 15 U.S. military bases in South Korea, along with the approximately 28,000 American troops currently stationed there; the removal of those troops would drastically reduce U.S. presence in the region. It would also be a loss to U.S. weapons manufacturers who have long supplied South Korea with armaments, including missile defense systems.
Ultimately, peace on the Korean peninsula appears to be attainable. North and South Korea have successfully held two productive meetings this year: following the historic meeting in April between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in vowing to end war and denuclearize, the two held an unannounced meeting on Saturday to continue further dialogue. Moon subsequently confirmed that Kim supports denuclearization and a summit with Trump, stating that “Chairman Kim and I have agreed that the June 12 summit should be held successfully, and that our quest for the Korean Peninsula’s denuclearization and a perpetual peace regime should not be halted.”
Moon also said that Kim “once again has made clear his will for the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and expressed his intent to settle the history of war and confrontation, and to cooperate for peace and prosperity through the success of the North Korea-US summit.”