Trump-Kim meeting brings back memories of Cold War summit diplomacy
SINGAPORE, The planned summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un harks back to the historic encounters between American and Soviet leaders during the Cold War aimed at fostering peace, analysts said.
Trump and Kim are set to hold their summit in Singapore on Tuesday amid growing hope that their talks will lay the groundwork for an end to decades of animosities and charting a peaceful path to the North's denuclearization.
Ahead of the unprecedented talks between the longtime foes, analysts have drawn analogies with Cold War-era summits, which helped build mutual trust and reduce military tensions although they, sometimes, ended with an accord of vague generalities.
"I think in one sense, we are at a period akin to 1959, when Eisenhower sought to test Khrushchev by inviting him to Camp David. He wanted to see whether Stalin's successor was as different and whether Cold War tensions might be lowered rather than constantly raised," said Patrick M. Cronin, senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security.
"While that exploratory summit yielded no broad agreements, and containment continued, it suggested a process might develop, and certain Kennedy concluded what became the early foundations for arms control," he added.
The summit between Dwight Eisenhower and Nikita Khrushchev came amid deep distrust between the two powers.
Khrushchev's concerns about an invitation to Camp David, the U.S. presidential retreat tucked away in a Maryland mountain, highlighted the level of understanding between the enemies. The Soviet leader later wrote that the summit venue might be a "place where people who were mistrusted would be kept in quarantine."
Although the Eisenhower-Khrushchev meeting yielded no concrete agreement, the media touted the "spirit of Camp David." But the hope for enhanced ties dimmed after a U.S. spy plane was shot down by the Soviet military in May 1960.
While citing the 1959 summit, Cronin of the Center for a New American Security noted that the North is not the Soviet Union, a major power with which the U.S. had engaged in a strategic rivalry for decades.
"The United States will not be satisfied with such minimal progress (from a summit with the North) before returning to a pressure, deterrence and containment strategy," the scholar said.
Other experts compared the Trump-Kim summit with the 1989 Malta Summit between U.S. President George H. W. Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, where they discussed an end to the Cold War. The summit came less than a month after the collapse of the Berlin Wall.
Following the meeting, Gorbachev told reporters that the "threat of force, mistrust, psychological and ideological struggle" should all be things of the past. Bush, in turn, said that the two sides can transform the East-West relationship to one of "enduring cooperation."
"The Trump-Kim summit in Singapore carries as significant a historical meaning as the Malta summit, which ushered in the post-Cold War era," said Kim Youl-soo, a foreign policy expert based in Seoul.
"It is because the Singapore meeting is aimed at tackling the North's denuclearization issue and addressing the decadeslong hostility between Washington and Pyongyang," he added.
Tuesday's summit in Singapore was arranged after the North Korean ruler shifted his policy focus toward economic development following years of provocations that raised fears of a nuclear war on the peninsula last year.
Some observers saw a similarity between Kim's policy shift and former Soviet leader Gorbachev's push for "glasnost," or openness.
Balbina Hwang, a visiting professor at Georgetown University, however, saw a difference between Kim and Gorbachev.
"I think Gorbachev realized he had no other choice but to relent to reforms and compromise with the West out of desperation and full realization that without doing so would mean the total collapse of his system or country, which occurred anyway," she said.
"Indeed, (Kim) is ready to embrace changes, but that these changes are being driven not out of the acknowledgement of last resort, as by Gorbachev, but because Kim feels confident enough that he can pursue them and still be able to control their outcome, meaning maintain and actually strengthen his regime and his country's system, not weaken it," she added.
Some analysts remained cautious to draw any analogies with the Cold War summits, citing differences between the U.S.-North Korea relationship and the rivalry between the great powers.
"No (comparison). For me it is a unique situation, not even comparable to the Iran case," Peter Joachim Katzenstein, a professor of international studies at Cornell University, told Yonhap.
Rana Mitter, a British historian, pointed to a contrast in the handling of nuclear arms during the Cold War and the current situation involving the North.
"The reduction of nuclear weapons was a major factor during the Cold War. However, at that time, there was much more concern about reducing the superpower arsenals," he said.
"Today there is little discussion of removing weapons from existing nuclear states," he said. "Instead, the drive is toward trying to prevent proliferation by states, such as North Korea and Iran. The dynamic is different."
Source: Yonhap News Agency