Trump and Jong-un, USA-North Korea, War and Peace: A Gandhian Phase in International Politics


Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra, Ph.D. – TRANSCEND Media Service

13 Jun 2018 – During news conference on June 12, 2018, after his talk with North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, the US President, Donald J. Trump, affirmed, ‘Anyone can make war, but only the most courageous can make peace.’ This reminded me Mahatma Gandhi, who called war immoral, and wrote,

‘War, with all its glorification of brute force, is essentially a degrading thing. It demoralizes those who are trained for it.’

Some political analysts may find this pronouncement of the US President paradoxical, but what I am concerned more here is with the historic nature of the talk, and President Trump’s extending a hand of friendship to the North Korean leader. The analyses of the historic talk indicate that not only the talk ended on a positive note, but also it will herald a new phase in international politics, not only for the East Asia, but also for the world. Let us consider these points.

First, the continuation of the peace process and the consequent ceasing of nuclear weapon building activity on part of the North Korea and the US stopping its joint military exercises in East Asia will save enormous resources, which can be diverted to other constructive purposes. President Trump during his electoral campaign had signaled that the US is incurring heavy expenditure in these joint military exercises, and he would take steps to stop it, thus saving billions to the US exchequer. Also, North Korea would tremendously benefit from the ceasing of hostilities. Its poor economy was overburdened with military expenditure. A coolheaded analysis would show that these steps would not only reduce tensions, but would also save huge resources.

Second, during their talk, the North Korean leader pointed out that the history of suspicion had led to such a war like hostile situation – North Korea piling up weapons, and the US adopting strong measures such as economic sanctions and increasing its military presence in the Korean peninsula. President Trump seconded Jong-un. Many agreements had failed. The pressure of sanctions and force had not worked effectively. The net result was building of weapons, including nuclear weapons by North Korea, increasing US investment in the region in terms of military presence. A peace process, started earnestly, will reduce trust gap not only between the US and North Korea, but also between North Korea and South Korea and Japan.

Third, this development is more of an affirmation of liberalism in international politics. Fear and mistrust, the core feature of the cold era, led to production of lethal weapons. Fear as reflected in security dilemma, implying that a state is not sure how much strong its enemy is, and how much it is prepared to wage a war, contributed to this arms accumulation and war preparation. This realist approach actually increased insecurity among nations instead of defusing it, and created more havoc. North Korea threatening to target US mainland and the US threat to display its fire and fury are all the reflections of this realist, egoistic, approach. In place of war, cooperation, trust and economic relations are sure elements to build peaceful relations in this globalized world.

Gandhi wrote a long ago that war ‘brutalizes men of naturally gentle character. It outrages every beautiful canon of morality. Its path of glory is foul with passion and lust, and red with blood of murder. This is not the pathway to our goal.’ He further wrote, ‘…the economic war is no better than an armed conflict. This is like a surgical operation. An economic war is prolonged torture. And its ravages are no less terrible than those depicted in the literature on war.’ Gandhi’s argument that ‘war is not a morally legitimate means of achieving anything permanent’ has become increasingly relevant in the current times.

The coming of the two leaders shows that the world is heralding a new phase in peace and cooperation. The protracted Korean crisis lingering for the last 70 years, embroiled in the Cold War, ideological, politics could perhaps have not been worse. North Korea suffered from economic underdevelopment, while South Korea prospered. North Korea invested huge resources in arms, while its people starved. The US spent billions to provide security to its allies against North Korea. Years wasted. But, better late than never! Who knows, had this saber rattling continued, there could have been a nuclear catastrophe and third world war! We are fortunate that no such thing happened, and President Trump and North Korean leader Jong-un took the step in the right direction.

Mahatma Gandhi must be turning in his grave, smiling. It is the Gandhian spirit that worked a sort of miracle in Singapore! Gandhi rightly said, ‘there is no path to peace, peace is the path.’ It is only in peaceful environment that positive peace can be realized. The more the world leaders realize this, the more they act on this principle, the better for us and for the world! The meeting in Singapore early this week held such a promise! There are better days for the world coming. And it is incumbent on all peace leaders and activists to cherish this moment and work along this line, and call for and engage in peaceful praxis all over the world.


Dr Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra is a member of the TRANSCEND Network, Director of the Mahatma Gandhi Center for Non-Violence, Human Rights and World Peace at Hindu University of America in Florida, and a Fellow at the Center for Peace, Democracy and Development, University of Massachusetts Boston. He is an Indian commentator and his areas of interest include conflict transformation and peacebuilding in South and Central Asia. His edited book Conflict and Peace in Eurasia was published by Routledge in 2013. His forthcoming coedited book is Gandhi and the World.


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 20 Jun 2018.

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