US-North Korea Summit: Good for Israel, or Great for Israel?

A groundbreaking and historic diplomatic summit between the United States of America and the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea in Singapore has the potential to reverse the course of a conflict that has existed between the two nations for nearly seventy years. US President Donald Trump and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un will meet to discuss denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and the normalization of relations between the world and North Korea.  North Korean diplomatic relationships with most of the global community are currently nonexistent at best, and hostile at worst. 

The meeting between the United States and North Korea comes on the heels of a roller-coaster month of May, in which the leaders of North and South Korea met twice.  The first meeting was part of a planned summit to discuss peace in the peninsula.  The Korean War ended with an armistice agreement in 1953, but no formal peace treaty was ever signed.  The inability of the United Nations to effectively mediate an official peace treaty following the Korean War became the source of decades of conflict between the two Korean nations.  The relationship between them can be described as “a separation with no divorce papers”, in the sense that the countries are hostile towards one another, but still intrinsically linked.  This state of affairs has remained a point of frustration not only for North and South Korea, but for the nations that failed to find a solution in 1953. 

The second encounter between the North and South Korean leaders was in response to President Trump’s strategic cancellation of his meeting with Kim Jong-un, following a personal insult to US Vice President, Mike Pence.  In doing so, President Trump demonstrated that he will stand by his friends, even at the potential expense of his legacy.  The result of the second meeting was that the US-North Korea Summit was reinstated, paving the way for an unprecedented meeting between the two nations and the potential easing of nearly seventy years of hostility.

Major diplomatic events of this nature always ripple outward, and their effects can be unpredictable.  Many nations stand to gain from a successful summit between the United States and North Korea.  The United States has faced repeated and consistent threats of nuclear annihilation from the North Korean regime.  North Korea is known to have missiles pointed at US bases in the Pacific Ocean.  If progress is not made towards getting North Korea to disband its nuclear program, it is only a matter of time until they develop missiles that can reach the US mainland.

It may seem strange to say that the Jewish State could stand to benefit in a real and tangible way from improved stability and relations in the Korean Peninsula.  How could Israel stand to gain, having never even been mentioned in the discussions between North Korea and the United States.  The answer is that in an increasingly interconnected global community, seemingly unrelated developments in one part of the world can have unexpected outcomes in another.  Given the geographic and diplomatic separation between Israel and North Korea, how can Israel benefit from a successful meeting between President Trump and Supreme Leader Kim?

The most successful outcome of the US-North Korea Summit would be comprehensive denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, an official peace treaty between North and South Korea and the opening of the currently sealed North Korean economy.  This last point is where Israel stands to benefit most.  North Korea is a sealed nation, often referred to as a “Hermit Kingdom”, which has been racked by economic decline and international sanctions for decades.  This economic situation is not sustainable and would explain the sudden willingness of the North Korean regime to pursue talks with their sworn enemies.

One of the most significant side effects of this decline has been large scale famine, which North Korea relies on foreign humanitarian aid to offset.  This famine is exacerbated by an agricultural industry with sparse, poor-quality farmland and sub-optimal technology.  Ideally, North Korea will agree to dismantle their nuclear program which will leave them with some extra spending money.  Peace with South Korea will also enable the North to scale back its general military spending, which makes up a large part of its budget.  This rebalance in spending will leave North Korea with plenty of government funds available that can be reinvested in bringing their economy into the 21st Century.  It is also likely that in this scenario, the United States will provide a substantial financial incentive, which, coupled with the lifting of economic sanctions will further boost North Korea’s buying power. 

Israeli-North Korean relations have been fairly hostile over the last thirty years, so the likelihood of economic cooperation may seem small, however, it is certainly no less likely than the diplomatic summit which is about to take place.  National interests shift, and countries that were once hostile can become unlikely partners.  With decades of experience with agriculture in less than optimum climates, Israel’s agricultural industry has exactly the know-how and equipment to revolutionize North Korea’s food production and potentially their exports as well.  Relations between North Korea and the world powers will likely still remain chilled for some time following any successful agreement.  This could make Israel, which has been largely uninvolved in any of their conflicts appear to be a much more agreeable business partner.  Demand will be high for top quality agricultural equipment and farming techniques, and Israel is in a prime position to deliver.  North Korea can also act as an excellent opportunity to show what Israeli technology can do in an environment vastly different from the Middle Eastern climate in which it is currently used, opening the door to similar arrangements with other developing countries.

There are also potential benefits to Israeli national security.  Even in the event that North Korea is unwilling to have direct economic dealings with Israel due to past disagreements, a successful outcome to the summit could remove certain Israeli security concerns.  Up until now, North Korea has maintained friendly and cooperative relations with several of Israel’s primary antagonists in the Middle East, such as Syria, Iran, and Iranian proxies like Hezbollah.  A major Israeli security fear has been that North Korea, with its crumbling economy, may sell nuclear weapons and components to Iran and Hezbollah.  If initial negotiations are successful on Tuesday, and North Korea does truly begin to dismantle its nuclear program, a credible nuclear threat to Israel is dismantled along with it.  Furthermore, North Korea will have the potential for new, lucrative and stable economic relationships with the United States, Europe, Russia and China.  It would not be in North Korea’s interests to jeopardize those relationships by continuing the sale of conventional ballistic missiles to Iran and Syria as they have done in the past. 

Russia, while allied with Iran and Syria, is unlikely to object, given the recent diplomatic difficulties it has encountered due in large part to Iranian aggression in the region, particularly towards Israel.  Russia has gradually lost patience with Iran, particularly since the latter launched a rocket attack on Israeli territory from positions in Syria, and will think twice about aligning itself with yet another unpredictable nation such as North Korea. 

An additional benefit to Israel could come about in the form of more favorable actions on the part of the United States.  If President Trump is successful at this summit, (the existence of which is a diplomatic victory in and of itself), it will become very difficult for other nations, particularly in Europe, from calling his foreign policy into question.  He will have established a great deal of credibility on the world stage and this, combined with his pro-Israel stance, could manifest in additional policy positions intended to strengthen the Jewish State.  Even in the event that negotiations don’t go as well as planned, the United States will have gotten closer to a resolution of the longstanding North Korean dilemma than ever before.  This will still embolden the Trump administration in its involvement with the rest of the world, so unless the negotiations improbably end in disaster, there will still be some positive effects for Israel.  When President Trump stood up for Vice-President Pence, it also showed where his priorities are.  Given Israel’s friendship with the USA, it is likely that he will stand up for Israel in the same way.  President Trump does well, Israel’s big brother America does well, and if America does well, Israel as its ally does well also.  The question isn’t whether Israel will benefit from the negotiations between the United States and North Korea, the question is how much.