“2019 Could Be Much Gloomier Than 2018”

His Royal Majesty, Dr Greg Fah Fombo, Political Scientist, University of Buea.

What impact did happenings in the Korean Peninsula (Donald Trump-Kim Jong-un summit and rapprochement between North Korea and South Korea) have on peace and stability in the region in 2018?

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The year 2018 had exciting developments on the Korean Peninsula. On June 12, 2018, the world witnessed an unprecedented summit meeting of US President, Donald Trump and North Korea’s supreme leader, Kim Jong-un, in Singapore. The meeting rekindled hopes for a final peace to end the Korean Conflict of the 1950s that has only known an armistice, but not a treaty as is usually the case after international conflicts. This was the first-ever meeting between leaders of the two countries. At the end, they signed a joint statement, agreeing to security guarantees for North Korea, new peaceful relations, the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, recovery of soldiers’ remains, and follow-up negotiations between high-level officials.

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However, since this ground-breaking day, not much has happened directly between them as both sides have been giving conflicting interpretations to their joint declaration after the summit.  The June 12 meeting gave impetus to a series of encouraging exchanges between the two Koreas to improve relations and build confidence. It is now incumbent on South Korea’s leader to initiate measures to revitalise US-North Korean direct talks.

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So much hope was raised when the America and North Korean leaders met in Singapore on June 12, 2018. Six months on, can you say the hopes have been dashed? Or are there still prospects of durable peace and stability returning to the Korean Peninsula after decades of tensions?

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Whatever the case, the two Koreas are talking regularly and engaging in peace building measures. The opening of a joint liaison office across the border in North Korea to maintain constant communication, with about 20 officials from each country manning the office, is indicative of progress made. This is a significant step from the old days of only communicating by phone and fax. Current engagements offer a new vista of hope to long lasting peace and why not, reunification of the Korean Peninsula?

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Antagonism between the US and North Korea over the latter’s nuclear weapons programme remains very high. The US recently cancelled a planned meeting between Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo and North Korean authorities, on fears that it will not yield meaningful results with regard to denuclearization. The growing unpredictability of US President Donald Trump, emanating from a number of issues, especially his renunciation of the international nuclear deal with Iran, has seen the US re-impose sanctions on Teheran - much against the views of America’s Western allies. The decision has thrown more cold water on initial high expectations and discouraged North Korea from making important concessions.

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As we enter 2019, how do you see the world turning out – political-wise and in terms of peace and security? Are we likely to see a more peaceful world with present hotspots waning in intensity or a more restive world?

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There are no obvious signs that the world will be less conflictual in 2019. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIS has lost grounds in the Levant, but the fundamental contradictions responsible for conflict in Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Turkey and the Arab world, generally remain. Afghanistan will surely not know peace in 2019. The US decision to withdraw troops from the country will simply energize the Taliban. The conflict in Ukraine will remain because President Putin has discovered a new easy spot for foreign policy (mis)adventures. On the other hand, the present leadership in Ukraine is not ready to turn East instead of West, which is the main bone of contention here.

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In Africa, if the elections in DRC go well, a new impetus could be created for lasting peace. It will however, take a while for stability to return, so UN presence will be required for several more years. Somalia will likely remain in turmoil. The crisis in the North of Nigeria involving Boko Haram is not waning. The Cameroon Boko Haram theatre appears to be easing out, but the Anglophone conflict in Cameroon has not received adequate attention at national and international levels to push the parties to seek peace.

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Sudan is imploding and the contradictions that ushered in the “Arab Spring” are manifesting in an uncannily familiar way. All in all, Donald Trump’s much vaunted “America First” approach to international issues is creating new anxieties and 2019 could be much gloomier than 2018.

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