A man and a woman watch missile launch in Pyongyang Kim Won Jin/AFP/Getty Images

Can South Korea Save the Day?

As Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump's war of words escalates, Independence Day celebrations are unfolding across the Korean Peninsula. The occasion underscores not just the shared history between North and South Korea, but also the South’s unique qualifications to bring about a peaceful resolution to the current military standoff.

CAMBRIDGE – As North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump’s war of words escalates, Independence Day celebrations – commemorating the Korean Peninsula’s 1945 liberation from Japanese colonial rule – are unfolding in both North and South Korea. The occasion underscores not just the shared history between the two countries, but also the South’s unique qualifications to bring about a peaceful resolution to the current military standoff.

As much as Kim may enjoy threatening the most powerful country in the world, the United States has never been North Korea’s primary target. On the contrary, the North’s real objective has always been to ensure the survival of the Kim regime and, in the longer term, to secure the reunification of the Korean Peninsula under that regime’s leadership. South Korea thus faces the most acute danger, and has the strongest incentive to alleviate tensions with the North.

That goal will not be advanced by South Korea’s annual joint military exercise with the US, Ulchi-Freedom Guardian (UFG), which is geared toward preparing both countries for a conflict with the North. On the contrary, with saber-rattling between North Korea and the US at an all-time high, the exercise – which will begin on August 21 – could escalate the conflict dramatically.

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