History encourages persistence, and the Korea Peninsula is an especially important example of that principle. The meeting last summer between President Donald Trump and North Korea leader Kim Jong Un rightly received massive global media coverage.
Meanwhile, with much less fanfare, President Moon Jae In of South Korea and Kim on Sept. 20 concluded meetings in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea. They announced jointly that Kim would visit South Korea in “the near future.”
President Moon’s position is clearly influential, and potentially crucial, to take positive advantage of any opportunities to improve relations between North and South Korea. The two Koreas were a single nation through history, though with some strong regional identities, until the stark division along the 38th Parallel in the closing weeks of World War II.
The Trump-Kim meeting has not yet resulted in any major diplomatic agreement affecting relations between the two sides. However, the very fact that the two leaders met represents a drastic change in the previously tense, distant and at times confrontational atmosphere between Washington and Pyongyang.
At past summits, heads of government made official what subordinates had labored for months or years to achieve. The gold standard is the two 1972 summits which concluded historic agreements initiated by President Richard Nixon. The Beijing meeting opened preliminary diplomatic communications after nearly a quarter-century of Cold War hostility. The Moscow meeting confirmed two strategic arms treaties.
The most tangible result of the recent U.S-North Korea summit meeting was commitment by Pyongyang to return remains of U.S. military personnel killed during the Korean War. This is important for our nation, especially the families directly involved.
President Moon knows his Korea in undeniably realistic terms. His father was a refugee from North Korea. The future president became a human rights lawyer following imprisonment for activism during South Korea’s Park Chung Hee dictatorship. He also served in the Republic of Korea army special forces, and saw action in the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) along the 38th Parallel
The Korean War defines both Koreas, and more. President Harry Truman reacted without hesitation to lead United Nations defense of South Korea after North Korea — spurred by the Soviet Union — invaded in late June 1950. President Dwight Eisenhower achieved an armistice ending the fighting in late July 1953, and then initiated a comprehensive economic development program as well as important military alliance with South Korea.
In the decades since, South Korea has moved from poverty and devastation to global economic leadership and truly representative democracy. Close comprehensive alliance with the U.S. makes this a joint success story.
South Korea has repaid this vital support. In 2001, President Kim Dae Jung made a point of being among the first heads of government to visit newly inaugurated President George W. Bush.
Throughout the Vietnam War, South Korea maintained approximately 50,000 troops in that country. These troops fought far from home in Southeast Asia because of a powerful public as well as government commitment to the American alliance.
Capstone of South Korea democratic transition was the 1998 election of President Kim Dae Jung. Earlier, the Park dictatorship had imprisoned him. On another occasion, government agents planned to kill him until U.S. CIA official Donald Gregg intervened.
Today, brutal realities are forcing the Pyongyang regime to seek economic relief. South Korea President Moon Jae In is positioned ideally to lead. His experience, outlook and temperament reinforce his office.
Moon can provide crucial, pivotal guidance on the Korea Peninsula.
— Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College and author of “After the Cold War.” Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.