The Return of US War Dead from North Korea Is Great for Their Families. But What Does It Mean for the World?
The wooden boxes arrived wrapped in white and blue U.N. flags. Inside lay what is thought to be the remains of American servicemen from the 1950-53 Korean War, returned from the North Korean coastal city of Wonsan by a U.S. military plane Friday morning and carried solemnly before an a honor guard at South Koreaâs Osan Air Base.
The return of war dead came on the 65th anniversary of the armistice that effectively ended that same Cold War conflict. It marks the first concrete concession coughed up by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un since last monthâs much-hyped summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore. Taking to Twitter, Trump said, âAfter so many years, this will be a great moment for so many families. Thank you to Kim Jong Un.â
But it remains to be seen what the return of an estimated 55 dead really means. The number of American families offered solace by Fridayâs repatriation is infinitesimal compared to those threated by Pyongyangâs nuclear capabilities. North Korea hasnât tested a missile for ten months, claims to have destroyed its only known nuclear testing ground and appears to have started dismantling its Sohae satellite launch station. But we are a long way from the complete, irreversible, verifiable denuclearization that is Washingtonâs stated goal.
âDoes [the return of remains] mean North Korea is willing to denuclearize? I just donât see that connection,â says Daniel Pinkston, a North Korea specialist at Troy University in Seoul. âTheir ideology, how they view the world system, is still consistent with maintaining a nuclear arsenal.â
Read more: The Trump-Kim Summit Was a Month Ago. Little Has Changed So Far.
Yet the return of war dead was one of only four points to come out of the Singapore post-summit declaration. According to the document, Washington would provide unspecified âsecurity guaranteesâ in exchange for North Koreaâs âunwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.â But weâre still no closer to a consensus on what âdenuclearizationâ actually means.
âIt really seems to me that Trump got distracted by this POW remains issue,â Prof. Stephan Haggard, a Korea expert at the U.C. San Diego School of Global Policy, told TIME immediately after the Singapore summit. âI mean, talk about being taken to the cleaners.â
Since 1990, North Korea is believed to have rep atriated the remains of 340 U.S. war dead. But painting the resumption of that process as a victory for the U.S. is misleading. In fact, it was President George W. Bush that cancelled recovery missions in 2005 amid heightening tensions over the Northâs nuclear program.
Even then, the missions were always controversial, as Pyongyang shamelessly exploited the issue to eke out political and financial benefits. According to David Maxwell, a retired U.S. Army Special Forces colonel who served five tours on the Korean peninsula, every aspect of the recovery operations is bled dry.
âNorth Korea plays on our culture, and our culture is âleave no service member behind,'â Maxwell told CNN. âEvery conflict of the modern era we have worked to recover the remains o f Americans that are missing in action.â
Read more: Forget Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un. Hereâs Why the People of North Korea Are the Real Solution
A total of 36,000 American soldiers lost their lives during the Korean War, part of an estimated 1.2 million total death toll. Some 7,700 U.S. soldiers remain listed as missing; 5,300 of them are believed still in North Korea.
Since 1993, the U.S. Department of Defense has funneled nearly $28 million to the Kim regime for help recovering remains. The 230 remains returned between 1996 and 2005 alone cost around $20 million, or $86,000 per soldier, says Haggard.
Itâs unclear what the U.S. is paying this time around, though North Korea never does a nything for free. In the long run, restarting repatriations could be a bigger win for Pyongyang than Washington.
âIt was a successful mission following extensive coordination,â said U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) Commander General Vincent K. Brooks. âNow, we will prepare to honor our fallen before they continue on their journey home.â
A formal repatriation ceremony will be held in Onson on Aug. 1. Then the remains will be flown to a U.S. military laboratory in Hawaii for DNA analysis to confirm their identities. North Koreaâs true intentions, however, will still be a mystery.Source: Google News North Korea | Netizen 24 North Korea