Republican lawmakers in the US Congress this week proposed President Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize “in recognition of his work to end the Korean War, denuclearize the Korean peninsula and bring peace to the region”.
There is, of course, no guarantee that the Norwegian Nobel committee will bestow the honor on the American leader. But given the committee’s past expediency, stranger things can happen.
One could cynically dismiss the whole business of the Scandinavian peace laurel as meaningless anyway. But the mere allusion of Donald Trump as an international peacemaker is deeply problematic and misrepresents the dangerous dynamics over Korea.
Consider too how someone can be lauded as a peacemaker when they just unleashed over 100 missiles on Syria, and is recklessly stoking war in the Middle East with Iran.
For a start it is much too premature to hail Korean peace efforts a success.
The historic meeting last week between the North and South Korean leaders and their declaration to end the Korean War (1950-53) was certainly a welcome milestone to bring about a peaceful settlement to decades of smoldering conflict.
As detailed by Moon Chung In, a South Korean presidential aide, the comprehensive agreements struck by the two Korean leaders during their historic meeting at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) are indeed ambitious and potentially a real turning point towards peace on the peninsula.
The headline detail is the willingness by North Korean leader Kim Jung Un to dismantle the country’s nuclear weapons arsenal. But this step is part of a wide-ranging series of mutual steps of deconfliction and trust-building, agreed to by South Korean President Moon Jae In.
The upshot of this reconciliation process is that it will be difficult to justify the continuing presence of US troops on the Korean Peninsula.
While Trump has so far welcomed the peace initiative between the two Koreas, there is no indication that the Americans are ready to make concessions to transform the conflict. There are in fact indications that the Trump administration will take a high-handed approach towards North Korea. Washington’s attitude seems to be one of expecting Kim Jong Un to unilaterally surrender his nuclear weapons, and then, maybe, the lifting of severe economic sanctions on his country will be considered.
In other words, the American position being adopted is that of a “victor” – and is in sharp contrast to the mutual engagement taken by the two Korean leaders. One wonders if the US and its South Korean ally are due for a rupture over very differing calculations.
At the end of this month, Trump is set to meet North Korea’s Kim at the DMZ village where the latter met his South Korean counterpart.
The encounter will be the first time a sitting American president has ever met a North Korean leader, a nation with whom the United States went to war against in 1950. Considering that Trump and Kim were only a few months ago trading threats of war and “total destruction”, the forthcoming summit is an astounding turnaround. One that deserves plaudits.
Trump, to his credit, is at least open to having a face-to-face meeting with Kim. Some American critics have accused the president of giving too much respect to Kim by even agreeing to hold the summit.
For Trump, the spectacle gives him much-needed kudos and respite from domestic scandals, including allegedly paying hush-money to a porn star.
But, as noted, it is much too early to hail Trump a peacemaker. If Trump adopts a high-handed attitude and unwillingness to genuinely engage in a peace process then that could be the deal-breaker. The situation could rapidly unravel into one of confrontation, and even all-out war, as seemed to be the case last year.
One ominous sign came from Trump’s hawkish National Security Advisor John Bolton. He told US media that what Washington should be seeking is a “Libyan model” for North Korea’s denuclearization. It was an inflammatory remark by Bolton, but one that again reveals Washington’s hardline position. A position that expects North Korea to capitulate without the US stepping up to the plate over its historic obligations to end the Korean conflict.
The so-called “Libyan model” cited by Bolton is where Muammar Gaddafi agreed to give up weapons of mass destruction in 2003-2004 Less than a decade later, the US and its NATO allies bombed the North African country at will, bringing about regime change and the brutal murder of Gaddafi.
The North Koreans are well aware of Libya’s fate and have explicitly referred to this in making the argument for developing nuclear weapons.
So, indeed, it’s too early to tell how the Korean peace initiative will go. Potentially, it’s a breakthrough opportunity. Praise goes first and foremost to the Korean leaderships, North and South, for their mutual and sincere engagement since the beginning of this year. The world wishes the people of Korea well. If anyone deserves a Peace Prize it is Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae In.
As for Trump: he has a long way to go to earn the right to be considered a peacemaker. After all, his nation just illegally bombed Syria last month over a fraudulent pretext. And he is threatening to unleash a war with Iran by scuppering the international nuclear deal, again over fraudulent pretexts.
Washington’s negotiating position towards North Korea has yet to be fully disclosed. But so far, the signs are precarious.
In any case, nominating American presidents for Nobel Peace Prizes has a dubious record. Remember how Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama was hurriedly bestowed the prize in 2009 only months after being inaugurated and after making a vague, highfalutin speech about nuclear disarmament. That was the same president who increased US overseas wars from two to seven and committed to upgrade the American nuclear arsenal with $1 trillion over the next 30 years.
At this stage, Peace Laureate Trump sounds more like a joke than an earned accolade.