Das geteilte Land - KOREA

2013 Peace Network: Respond dear Diplomacy

Nord- und Südkorea, 2013


2013 Korean Peninsula, Respond dear Diplomacy!
Wook-sik CHEONG




Wook-sik Cheong (Representative of Peace Network)
February 23, 2013

Serious tension has been building up in the Korean Peninsula due to the vicious circle created by the brinkmanship posed by North Korea, military demonstration by the U.S., and heated rhetoric war between two Koreas. The level of crisis has been increasing with each day, yet a way out of this crisis is hardly visible.
Several crises erupted in the past, but the current one is taking on a different trajectory. In the past the involved countries tried to find a resolution through talks. When talks were unfeasible, arbitrators intervened on behalf of the concerned countries. Today, there is no conversation, only confrontation. Arbitrators are hardly visible anymore. This is why the present crisis seems more serious than ever.
What is more concerning is the “no need for diplomacy” theory has been gaining strength recently. North Korea has removed the denuclearization agenda from the negotiation table, forcing the U.S. and South Korea to choose ‘war or peace.’ The Obama Administration is sending a rather ambiguous message, saying “we are open for talk” on one hand, and “talk for talk will not happen” on the other hand. This implies that North Korea should stop provocative announcements and really engage in denuclearization in order for the U.S. to come to the table. The objective to reach beyond the talk is a precondition for actual talking. The Park Geun-Hye Administration assumes a similar stance as the U.S.

What’s the reason for the failure of diplomacy with North Korea?

It isn’t wrong to claim that diplomacy toward North Korea has failed. We should also not blame the idea that “with all the diplomatic efforts by the U.S. and South Korea, North Korea still responded provocatively” for the failure of diplomacy in this crisis. Even though North Korea has violated the agreement, South Korea and the U.S. have done so often, as well. The chasm between two sides in regards to the interpretation of agreement and implementation exists too. The true nature of the problem lies in the fact that rather than trying to resolve the conflict, the two sides responded independently: South Korea and the U.S. put sanctions on North Korea and North Korea responded provocatively.
We would rather find the reason of failure in the lack of diplomacy. The unresolved peace agreement is the leading example of this lagging diplomacy. Six-party talks in the September 19 Joint Statement decided to hold forums to replace the armistice agreement with a peace agreement, but no such forums have occurred since. North Korea has asked for the peace agreement several times, yet South Korea and the U.S. have completely ignored the request. Strong discontent caused by this slight is the underlying reason behind the provocative words from North Korea.
Six-party talks have not been held since the rupture of negotiation in December 2008. For the most part South Korea and the U.S. are responsible for the dissolution of six-party talks. Two countries asked for verification on the nuclear declaration form of North Korea, which was not included in the agreement. North Korea, notorious for its fastidiousness, turned down the proposal, which resulted in the halt. Six-party talks have barely held on since then. North Korea in 2009, and South Korea and the U.S. in 2010 were hesitant to open up the six-party talks. Dialogue between the two Koreas has practically ended, and talk between North Korea and the U.S. barely exists at all. The missile and nuclear capacity of North Korea has been strengthened in the meantime. There is a reason behind this shy diplomacy from South Korea and the U.S. for the past five years. By saying, “North Korea will not last long,” the Lee Myung-Bak government became obsessed with the idea of unification by absorbing the North when Kim Jong-Il collapsed with brain disease. The Obama Administration seemed to pursue the engagement policy towards North Korea in the beginning. The U.S. turned away from the solidification of three-way relations between the U.S., the South and the North, when North Korea launched a long-range rocket in April 2009. The Lee Myung-Bak government pursued unification by absorbing North, and the Obama Administration focused on a “pivot to Asia,” rather than engaging in negotiations with North. Any outcome was hard to predict.

‘Chemical Reaction’ with Kim Jong-Un is necessary.

How to react to provocation by North Korea is an important matter. <Washington Post> wrote “Answer North Korea with financial sanctions.” Financial sanctions on North Korea seemed to strengthen around the U.S. after the third nuclear experiment of North Korea. It tries to put pressure on the elite in North Korea through Banco Delta Asia style sanctions. However, one should never underestimate the opposite effect of BDA. If the U.S. had not imposed BDA sanctions, the implementation of September 19 Joint Statement would have been faster.
Ultimately sanctions on North Korea and military demonstration are of no use to change North Korea’s behaviors. For one thing, it is questionable whether sanctions would actually hurt leaders in North Korea, and even if it does, they would rather take more aggressive actions than surrender. The only way to make North Korea’s fist open is that the U.S. will also do. It will be more effective to send a message that the U.S. is willing to enter into a peace agreement by holding a high-level talk and sending envoys to Pyongyang than to take military actions, via sending B-52, B-2, and F-22 overseas.
Particularly, diplomacy of South Korea and the U.S. should be directly targeted at Kim Jong-Un, the very leader of North Korea. Considering the North Korean systems in which group thinking prevails, decision from the leader is essential in changing North Korea’s course.
In the middle of 1980s, when the arms race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union reached its highest point, words like “Global Armageddon” and “Nuclear Winter” were widely used around the globe. Distrust between two sides rose to extremes: Ronald Reagan called the Soviet “the evil empire” while Soviet leaders thought the U.S. was preparing for a nuclear war. But Reagan’s change in heart along with Gorbachev’s new thinking brought an end to the Cold War without a single bullet shot. ‘Chemical reactions’ created through several summit talks made this possible.
The way to end the “Korean Armageddon” lies here. U.S. and South Korea have to answer with diplomacy that can ignite chemical reactions within Kim Jong-Un.

*Jinhyun Lee and Kate Lehman contributed to translating this article into English.

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