Nukes on the Table

As second summit approaches, denuclearization is in the spotlight.

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At the end of last week, US officials were in Pyongyang and Seoul for discussions in the lead-up to a second summit between President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong-un planned for February 27 and 28 in Hanoi, Vietnam. Since the pair’s first historic and photogenic meeting last year, the North Korean regime appears to be no closer to giving up its nuclear weapons, while the issue has largely fallen out of the international media spotlight.

The high-level talks on the Korean peninsula appear to have swung attention back to denuclearization. Predata signals have captured sudden increases in interest in nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula. As the charts below show, Korean online research increased into both North Korea’s WMD program and in the possibility of South Korea acquiring nuclear weapons.

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Activity on web pages related to the 2017-2018 North Korean saber-rattling and weapons tests has been particularly high, a sign that last year’s crisis is fresh on the mind of Korean netizens.

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The reasons for South Korean interest in nuclear weapons are somewhat difficult to divine. In the past, this signal has spiked during periods when the United States’ security guarantee to Seoul was in doubt, as South Koreans conducted online research into what it would mean for their nation to acquire nuclear weapons. This time, however, the heightened signal could simply point to increased interest in whether the second US-North Korea summit will advance denuclearization of the peninsula.

Either way, it seems that the White House has at least refocused attention on the issue of North Korea’s nuclear program. Whether President Trump will actually elicit tangible commitments toward denuclearization is another matter.