Obama visits South Korea

March 31st, 2012

President Barack Obama visited South Korea this past weekend for the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) and pronounced he still was aiming for “a world without nuclear weapons.”

This statement came nearly two years after Obama declared that the only purpose of the United States nuclear weapons arsenal is to deter other countries from using them.

At the last NSS in 2010, Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ratified the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).

START is an ongoing bilateral nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia. That treaty is supposed to last until 2021. During the 2012 summit, Obama met with Medvedev to discuss START. Obama also spoke with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Medvedev to discuss the ongoing nuclear threats across the world, including Iran and nuclear terrorism.

The summit worked hard these past two years to secure all the plutonium reserves, and other sites that have nuclear materials. Yet there are still looming concerns. The summit’s location is next door to North Korea, a country who actively touts their nuclear capabilities.

But the summit was supposed to be more than just North Korea. “The point here is that the president is going to the Nuclear Security Summit. The Nuclear Security Summit is not about North Korea,” said Daniel Russel, Obama’s senior Asia adviser.

However, North Korea is what everyone seemed to have on their minds. North Korea’s recent announcement about launching another satellite in April raised a lot of international concerns. Obama first stopped at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), a 2.5-mile stretch of land that separates North and South Korea. He referenced the border as “freedom’s frontier,” referencing North Korea as the totalitarian state. He then proceeded to physically look into North Korea with a pair of binoculars.

The U.S. currently has 285,000 troops at the South Korean border with their guns directly aimed at the North. The U.S. has had troops on that border since the Korean War in the 1950s. Obama also employed other tactics to try and get the North to comply with international protocol. Roughly 64.5 percent of North Korea’s imports come from China. Obama hoped that China’s influence could help calm North Korea.

But Obama’s meeting with the Chinese president did not appear to have much success. In fact, he voiced frustration towards China’s lack of pressure.

“What I’ve said to them consistently is, rewarding bad behavior, turning a blind eye to deliberate provocations, trying to paper over these not just provocative words but extraordinarily provocative acts that violate international norms, that that’s not obviously working,” said Obama.

Obama hopes that he will be able to break an aggressive pattern of the North. For years, the North has threatened to wage war whenever their demands have not been met. Most recently, the North threatened war if the NSS even discussed any plans on containing the North. But such threats have never been backed by serious military aggression. With Kim Jong Il passing away in December, Obama hopes that he can break this hostile trend before it even begins with the successor Kim Jong Un.

Obama has been directly working with the South Korean President Lee Myung-bak in finding ways to contain North Korea.

“There had been a pattern, I think for decades, in which North Korea thought that if they acted provocatively, then somehow they would be bribed into ceasing and desisting acting provocatively,” said Obama. “And President Lee and I have agreed from the start of our relationship that we’re going to break that pattern.