Many believe that the Fourth World War will be fought with sticks and stones. While this may seem like an abstract statement, it is a very scary possibility. With nine countries possessing a nuclear arsenal, World War Three would most definitely by the world’s first nuclear war, and the destruction the war would cause is unfathomable. Most people also believe that the next global war will originate in the Korean peninsula, with the ever-increasing tensions between Kim Jong Un, dictator of North Korea, and Donald Trump, the President of the United States. Over the past year, North Korea has inched its way into the nuclear race, testing all kinds of new nukes, some with the capability to reach the United States. However, there may be a breakthrough in the hostility between the two nations. Kim Jong Un plans to formally announce his willingness to denuclearize his country when he meets with President Moon Jae-in of South Korea this month. Kim has repeatedly said that he would be willing to discuss giving up nuclear weapons if his government no longer felt threatened militarily and its security was guaranteed.
This is very surprising news, as before the Winter Olympics in Korea, Kim and Trump got into a war of words, with Trump calling Kim a “little rocket man” and warning Pyongyang not to make any more threats against the United States or they would "face fire and fury like the world has never seen". While the verbal back-and-forth between the two foreign leaders divided the two countries, North Korea and South Korea combined their Olympic teams for the Winter Olympics to form a Korean team. Soon after the conclusion of the games, North Korea vowed to hold a meeting with South Korea and the United States. Sometime, presumably in a few months, North Korea will meet with the United States, possibly to discuss denuclearization. So who deserves the credit for North Korea’s sudden change of heart? China or Trump?
Trump will claim that he is the reason why North Korea decided to talk denuclearization. And there might be a valid reason for Trump’s belief. When it comes to North Korea, Trump did not back down. Whenever Kim Jong Un made an abstract claim, Trump responded with an equally arbitrary statement. But, the definitions of denuclearization are drastically different in the United States and North Korea. As Trump and his government officials use the term, denuclearization has long meant North Korea giving up its nuclear weapons program, dismantling all of its nuclear facilities and participating in an international verification system. In this scenario, the United States gets everything it wants. The problem with this scenario is that North Korea has gone to great lengths to develop its nuclear weapons program, making it highly unlikely that it would cede that program so easily. Neither Kim Il Sung nor Kim Jong Il (the predecessors to Kim Jong Un) were prepared to do so during previous discussions. And given that Kim Jong Un has only accelerated the development of his nuclear and missile programs since taking power, it is a safe bet that he will be similarly protective of what he has achieved.
Kim Jong Un would probably be looking for a sizeable bargain in exchange for giving up nuclear weapons. Kim’s only need for having nuclear weapons is that a missile arsenal ensures he stays in power. Consequently, for him to agree to give up his nukes, he would need some other mechanism to ensure the same outcome and his hold over the Korean Peninsula. And his preferred mechanism is almost certainly the dismantlement of the entire security architecture that the United States has built in East Asia since the end of World War II. Such architecture includes, among other things, the presence of almost 63,000 U.S. troops in South Korea and Japan, regular joint military exercises with both countries, strategic alliances with both countries, and most of important of all, the extension of the U.S. nuclear security umbrella over both countries. To Kim, denuclearization means getting rid of all this. This is what it meant to his father and grandfather and this is what it will mean to him.
Coincidentally, or maybe not, this is exactly what China wants. Xi Jinping is using North Korea as a proxy nation, using its name to achieve what they want to do. While Trump’s diplomatic ways might have had some effect on North Korea, the main influence is China. Why is China so influential in North Korea’s decisions? Well, China backs up North Korea, supplying them with many things. In a way, North Korea is supported by a China just like South Korea is supported by the United States. So it is in fact not wrong to say; the road to Pyongyang does indeed run through Beijing.