Could Donald learn from Ronald?


To many, the state of North Korean affairs has been, since the election of Donald Trump as American President, a scary and turbulent time especially, when you look at Twitter. Although relations were not good during Barack Obama’s administration, Obama did not have the urges to tweet every thought which meant there was less drama or, to put it plainly, a more controlled and official approach to how news flowed out of the White House. The election of Trump makes the situation now very different and, in many ways, it is not too dissimilar to parts of the Cold War. Examples that come to mind are highs and lows in relations, such as Détente and the Cuban Missile Crisis and, to be more specific, I am thinking of the days of Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan; the days that led to the end of the Cold War which, might I add, also happened after Reagans rhetoric ‘battle’ where he rashly called the Soviet Union the ‘Evil Empire’.

When mentioning Ronald and Donald, let me just make clear to anyone who is now crying out in dismay   that I am in not saying that they share many similarities, particularly in quality as Presidents. The same with Gorbachev and Kim Jong Un, Gorbachev was happy to talk from the start while the North Korean regime is recluse and aloof so, if that is something to go by, it is not surprising that Kim Jong Un didn't communicate much in his early days despite the infamous nuclear threats escalated through Twitter. It will be difficult to forget Trump's ‘twitter war', with great tweets such as ‘North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the ‘Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.’ and, let us not forget, ‘Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!'. (January 2018).    

Of course, the event that has led me to make this Cold War comparison was the meeting on the 27thApril 2018 where Kim Jong-Un and Moon Jae-In shook hands in North and South Korea, smiling to the cameras and promising some form of a thaw in relations. Since then, we have seen the destruction of the propaganda speakers in South Korea, the destruction of North Koreas nuclear site in Punggye-ri and, also, the releasing of 3 US citizens from North Korea. In this meeting, very much like 1986 Reykjavik meeting between Gorbachev and Reagan, many promises were made back then of disarmament, and recently the same, with the addition of ending the Korean war, and talks of one day a unified Korea being a reality once again.

However, recently after North Korea's vice foreign minister Choe Son Hui made negative remarks to Mike Pence calling him a ‘dummy' over his statement remarking that North Korea could follow a Libya style of denuclearization. In short, Libya’s denuclearisation is thought to be one of the reasons for Gaddafi’s regime falling apart which is something that the Kim regime would not want to happen to them, which is why it is understandable that they would not want to follow a similar path. Therefore, the denuclearisation of North Korea, if it ever comes to fruition, will come in a different form. But, the ‘Dummy’ event caused Donald to write a cancellation letter to Kim Jong Un over the Singapore Summit that was due to happen on the 12th June stating that the cancellation was due to ‘open hostility'. However, Trump did leave the letter open-ended stating ‘If you change your mind having to do with this most important summit, please do not hesitate to call me or write. The world, and North Korea, in particular, has lost a great opportunity for lasting peace and great prosperity and wealth. This missed opportunity is a truly sad moment in history.' At first, this made the comparison made almost void, as Reagan and Gorbachev did not have these large arguments sparked off by a tweet or an off the cuff remark. Let us be thankful that Twitter was not in existence during the Cold War!!

However, this may not be the end to peace talks. Kim Jong-Un's right-hand man Kim Yong Chol, visited the White House to give President Trump a letter, which has seemingly put the Summit back on the calendar and whether it will still go ahead is up in the air, as is always the case with such high-profile talks. I think it is also safe to argue that the dynamic between Trump and Kim is explosive of which, to say the least, makes relations on the international stage interesting at times. While in the late 80’s, once Reagan had mellowed going from hard-line anti-USSR to being open to negotiations which made relations between the two nations less chilly. This paired with Gorbachev becoming leader of the USSR, which sparked positive comments from politicians such as Margaret Thatcher stating ‘I like Mr Gorbachev. We can do business together’ which, subsequently, followed frequent yearly meetings between Reagan and Gorbachev, starting with Geneva (1985) and ending with Moscow and New York (1988). Unsurprisingly, this led to not only some progress but real big changes which, ultimately, helped lead to the deconstruction of the USSR.    

To be clear, the Singapore Summit is still up in the air as it could be cancelled, back on, or delayed with just a flip of the switch. A comparison can still be made, even if they are loose comparisons to how the Cold War ended or maybe this is all wrong and a conflict is merely on the horizon. 


Cameron Thomas is a student at the University of Salford