Das geteilte Land - KOREA

2013: Settlement of US-Northkorea Relations

Nord- und Südkorea, 2013

2013.06.20 14:06:57 (*.39.252.76)

“North Korea wants an end to the armistice regime and settlement of hostile US-North Korea relations”

- Interview with Wooksik Cheong, a representative of Peace Network

“The armistice regime and ROK-US alliance are historical twins of the Korean War.”

Date: May 14, 2013
Interviewers: Jinhyun Lee, Byeongwoo Kim, Eunji Cho, interns at Peace Network


President Park Geun-hye has returned from the ROK-US summit talks. Marking the 60th anniversary of the ROK-US alliance, President Barack Obama agreed with her on the Korean Peninsula trust process and discussed the future of the alliance during the summit talks.

However, the 60th anniversary of the ROK-US alliance coincides with the 60th anniversary of the armistice regime. This year North Korea has carried out its 3rd nuclear test and shut down the Kaesong Industrial Complex, driving the Korean Peninsula into a state of deadlock. In this crisis, what are some issues that should have been discussed in the ROK-US summit talks? And which direction should the ROK-US relations take? Interns (Jinhyun Lee, Byeongwoo Kim, Eunji Cho) at Peace Network have interviewed Wooksik Cheong, a representative of Peace Network, to discuss solutions to end the crisis in the Korean Peninsula.

During the summit talks, President Park Geun-hye announced the Joint Declaration in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the ROK-US alliance, and President Barack Obama supported the Korean Peninsula trust process. How do you evaluate the outcome of the ROK-US summit talks?

I feel that the outcome of the ROK-US summit talks was very disappointing. 2013 is not only the 60th anniversary of the ROK-US alliance, but it is also the 60th anniversary of the armistice agreement. Leaders of two countries emphasized the significance of the alliance and its future, yet neglected to discuss the need to replace the armistice regime with a peace regime.
Historically, the ROK-US alliance and the armistice regime are twins brought forth by the Korean War. One of the duties of the alliance is to replace the unstable armistice regime with a permanent peace regime but both countries failed to include this agenda in the summit talks, which makes the future of the Korean Peninsula look dim.

Hostility between North Korea and the U.S. lies in their different stances. How do you define the stances of each country, and where does the difference come from?

The relations between the U.S. and North Korea are very peculiar. There is the world’s only superpower on one hand, and a country that can hardly afford the living of its people yet has high nuclear and missile capacities on the other. North Korea expresses a strong opposition to the United States, but it desperately seeks to normalize relations with it. In contrast, the United States is reluctant to make ties with a country that violates the human rights of its people and constantly threatens to turn Washington into a “sea of fire.”
If you look at it closely, North Korea is a strategic point from which the U.S. can gain a number of benefits. The U.S. can contain the rise of China in East Asia through an arms buildup against North Korea. In addition, it can strengthen its alliance with South Korea, which is a big market for weapons of the American war industry. Thus, the Obama administration feels that it is more beneficial to keep North Korea as an enemy than to establish ties with it.
North Korea, on the other hand, is desperate to normalize relations with the U.S. While South Korea succeeded in establishing ties with former Communist countries like China and Russia, North Korea is still in confrontation with the U.S. and Japan, and is under severe economic sanctions. Leaders in North Korea feel that without normalization of relations with the U.S. they are unlikely to survive.
North Korea pursues the brinkmanship of “war or peace” against the U.S. in order to normalize relations but the more provocative they are, the more reluctant the U.S. and South Korea become to establish ties with Pyongyang, creating a vicious cycle.

What are the role and responsibility of the Korean government as an arbitrator between the North and the U.S.?

In order to solve the problems of the Korean Peninsula, it is very important for North and South, North and the U.S., and ROK-US relations to move in a virtuous circle. Therefore, the role of South Korea is very important. The problem now is whether the Park Geun-hye government has the will and vision to carry out such roles, and in which area it is going to put the most emphasis.
In terms of relations, it is important to balance its position between North Korea and the U.S. Strengthening the ROK-US alliance indicates worsening relations with North Korea, the enemy country of the alliance, and China, the potential competitor of the ROK-US alliance. Thus the alliance policy of South Korean government not only affects relations with the U.S., but it also affects relations with North Korea and China. The Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye governments have valued this alliance.
The Lee Myung-bak Government was obsessed with unification by absorption, which seems unrealistic, and as a result neglected specific issues at hand such as the problems of six-party talks, a peace regime, and denuclearization. I am afraid that the remnants of the previous administration still affect the North Korean policy of the Park Geun-hye government.

Both the conservative and liberal parties have put the agenda of ‘denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula’ atop the policies toward North Korea. In the current circumstances in which North Korea is alleged to possess nuclear weapons, is it still legitimate to set the denuclearization as a political objective?

A stitch in time saves nine, but we have not made a proper stitch in time, which has resulted in the North’s possession of nuclear weapons. Some argue that the goal of North Korea was to have nuclear weapons in the first place and that any effort to stop it was meaningless, but this is to oversimplify the negotiations on North Korea.
A change in understanding is essential to approach the nuclear problem in the Korean Peninsula. President Park Geun-hye said that the South Koreans could not live under the constant threat of nuclear weapons. However, North Korea has been exposed to such threat from the United States for the past sixty years. Since 1950 the U.S. has deliberately posed a threat of nuclear attack on the North. The U.S.’s nuclear threats against North Korea are not less intimidating the North’s, considering the asymmetrical scale of weapons. So it is important to understand that North Korea is under as much threat of nuclear attack as we are.
The solution to the nuclear issue in the Korean Peninsula starts from a sense of common security, which ended the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States. The spirit of “your safety is my safety” is a key to understand the nuclear problems in the Korean Peninsula in which both the North and the South are under the threat of nuclear attack.

To look at the overall picture of the North Korea-US relations, changes of governments in both South Korea and the U.S. have made it hard to maintain political consistency on North Korea, and ultimately impeded negotiations on its nuclear weapons. What proper measures could maintain consistency on policies toward the North and to advance negotiations on nuclear weapons?

It is a very important issue. North Korea, notorious for its unpredictable behavior and speech, has political consistency nevertheless. But administrations in the U.S. and South Korea have often changed in the face of a critical phase, losing consistency on North Korean policy, which makes it hard to maintain trust and continuance regarding promises made with each other.
What makes it harder is a sense of asymmetry characteristic of measures taken by each side. Measures that can be taken by the North regarding denuclearization are irreversible, such as abandonment of nuclear weapons. On the other hand, those of the U.S. such as lifting of economic sanctions and signing of peace treaty are easily reversible. Such difference creates asymmetry in regards to negotiations on North Korea.
In dealing with issues of changes of governments along with asymmetry of each side’s measures, I believe a conservative government has a better chance to overcome such problems. As you can see from the cases of Nixon who brought forth détente with the Soviet Union, and Reagan who succeeded in marking an end to the Cold War, a conservative government is better equipped to accommodate and incorporate public opinion on North Korean policy. A large part of policy toward North Korea is associated with domestic solidification. In this light, a conservative government needs to pursue a more liberal North Korean policy while a liberal government should dedicate more energy to resolving domestic conflicts and enmity.

The West Sea has been strewn with the possibility of armed conflicts. The issue of the Northern Limit Line, in particular, is an important issue to both Koreas. What do you think is a feasible solution, acceptable to both sides, to resolve the NLL problem?

A lot of issues between two Koreas exist mainly due to the lack of will to solve such problems. The issue of the Northern Limit Line is one of them.
An approach to resolve the NLL issue should begin from a historical understanding that it is not a mutually agreed line of territory. While there are many people who argue that the NLL is a territory line, they seldom present evidence to support their argument. On the other hand, documents saying that the NLL is not an agreed territory line are numerous. Yet it is hard to accept such historical fact because of prevalent public sentiment after the naval skirmishes in the West Sea, the incidents of the Cheonan ship, and Yeonpyeong-do.
It is not a coincidence that military conflicts have often taken place in the vicinity of the NLL. Furthermore, the probability of war escalation is greater than before. Growing nuclear capabilities in North Korea strengthens its military adventurism, while South Korea has adopted the military doctrine “positive deterrence.”
I think a conservative government can do better in resolving the NLL problem as well, considering the public sentiment. The fundamental principle to solve the NLL issue can be found in the Inter-Korean Basic Agreement. Maritime border lines should be set through agreement between the two Koreas, and both sides should stick to the current area of jurisdiction until reaching the agreement. The NLL problem is a temporary conflict before the unification of Korea. The two Koreas should find a way to relieve military tension and improve mutual economic prosperity in the region.
How do you see the changes in the views of the public toward inter-Korean problems and issues of unification?
The overall perspective on the issue of national security has become conservative. The tendency for nationalism has gained power as well. At the same time, people remain calm and resolute against the media reports of an imminent war crisis. The younger generation tends to show indifference to the issue of North Korea and peace in the Korean Peninsula, largely because of schoolwork and employment. Whilst the older generation was able to get a job while associating themselves heavily with social issues, the younger generation is forced to spend time and energy solely on employment due to job shortage.

It is important to recognize that the issues of North Korea and unification can be both an opportunity and a crisis for anyone .We need to create an environment for peace discussion to give the younger generation a chance to understand that unification is a matter of self and nation.

* Jinhyun Lee and Sam Kammerling contributed to translating this article into English.


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