Over the past year, the South Korean government has pursued what could be called the Field of Dreams approach to resolving the North Korean nuclear crisis: If you build peace, they will come. President Moon Jae In, a longtime practitioner of the liberal “Sunshine Policy” of engagement with North Korea, has repeatedly sought to establish facts on the ground that favor diplomacy when the ground has convulsed beneath his feet.
When U.S. and North Korean leaders were threatening one another with nuclear war, Moon seated them an arm’s length away from one another while hosting the “peace” Olympics in Pyeongchang. When Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un were ready to talk to each other but wary of saying so themselves, South Korean officials did all the talking—shuttling from Pyongyang to Washington and announcing on the White House driveway that Trump had agreed to meet with Kim. When Trump angrily canceled that summit, Moon helped revive it by rushing to the border to consult with North Korea’s leader.
Now Moon has done it again, reporting after more meetings this week with Kim in Pyongyang that North Korea has agreed to shut down a facility for testing missile engines in the presence of foreign experts, to potentially close its main nuclear complex if the United States makes an unspecified concession in return, and to improve North-South ties through measures such as beginning to demilitarize their heavily militarized border and reconnecting inter-Korean railways and roads. If it’s starting to look like Trump’s summit gambit is hastening peace on the Korean peninsula, the truth is that it’s more Moon than Trump who has been driving the process—and peace is still a long way off.