Das geteilte Land - KOREA

2013 Peace Network: Normality and Abnormality

Nord- und Südkorea, 2013

60th Anniversary of the Korean War Armistice Regime
Normality and Abnormality


Wooksik Cheong, the Director of Peace Network

2013 marks the 60th anniversary of the ceasefire of the Korean War. The Korean armistice agreement in 1953 put a halt to the Korean War, but it has not ended the war completely. The Korean Peninsula has lived under the armistice agreement for sixty years, which is unprecedented in global history. However, a number of South Korean citizens neither regularly consider the armistice agreement nor feel uncomfortable living under it. North Korean people, on the other hand, supposedly feel suppressed and uncomfortable under the armistice agreement, experiencing economic sanctions and allegedly a constant threat of attack from the U.S. There comes disparity between the two Koreas in regards to the armistice agreement.

It is important to recognize such disparity. While South Korea has flourished under the armistice agreement, establishing ties with China and Russia (former enemy countries during the Cold War era), and has brought forth enormous economic growth and democratization, North Korea has not been able to become an active member of the global community under the armistice agreement. It is still in confrontation with the U.S. and Japan, and has become isolated both politically and economically from the world. In short, South Korea doesn’t feel the armistice agreement as an abnormal phenomenon while North Korea feels so.

To maintain or to break the status quo
The Korean Peninsula issues are essentially conflicts between two strategies: one to maintain the status quo and the other to break it. The status quo in the Korean Peninsula has been solidified after having experienced the division, the Korean War, and the armistice. Conflicts in regards to the status quo of the Korean Peninsula arise both inside and outside of the nation. Recent disputes around the Northern Limit Line(NLL) are one example that shows how the South Korean privileged take advantage of the inter-Korean relations as a means to influence domestic political atmosphere.

Historically, violent measures have prevailed in order to break the status quo. Kim Il-sung, Stalin and Mao Zedong’s attempts to break the status quo through the war in the 1950s created enormous casualties and scars in the region. The attempt of “regime change” in North Korea by the George W. Bush administration and the attempted unification by absorption of the Lee Myung-bak government both resulted in the North’s obsession with nuclear armament. These examples indicate the basic mechanisms of the problems in the Korean Peninsula, in which violent measures to break the status quo – whether through military force or through economic sanctions – have all come to a negative conclusion.

Peaceful change of the status quo is the only solution
The U.S. seems to be in favor of the status quo in the Korean Peninsula in which the armistice agreement continues to be in effect. The U.S. takes advantage of the status quo of Korea as a means to strengthen stable presence of the US Forces Korea(USFA), to pivot to Asia-Pacific, and to secure a large market for weapons sales. South Korea has also undergone significant economic growth and democratization and has succeeded to normalize relations with Russia and China, their former enemy countries in the Cold War era. In other words, South Korea as well as the US feel the armistice agreement as “normal” and have little discomfort living under the agreement.

North Korea, on the other hand, is in a very different phase. For the past twenty years, cross-recognition of the Korean Peninsula has not yet been fully realized because North Korea failed to normalize its relations with the US and Japan. The isolation of Pyongyang has been accelerated in contrast to the strengthened alliance between South Korea, the U.S., and Japan. Sanctions against the North not only suppress the leaders in Pyongyang but also tighten the livelihoods of the North Korean public. The provocative message from North Korea since this year is simple: “We cannot live under the armistice regime any longer. We want you, the South and the U.S., to feel how unstable and inconvenient the status quo is.” In short, North Korea feels the armistice regime as abnormal, which needs to be replaced by the peace regime.

In order for North Korea to become a normal member of the international community – as insisted on by the U.S. and South Korea – the abnormality of the armistice regime needs to be replaced by a normality of peace regime. The solutions to problems associated with the North, such as the North’s nuclear weapons, all start from a peaceful environment on the Korean Peninsular.
Jinhyun Lee and Sam Kammerling contributed to translating this article into English

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