[Viewpoint] Giving sanction to warKorea has suddenly become one of the most dangerous spots on the map. The Korean War (1950-1953) never ended with a peace treaty. On July 27, 1953, the UN forces led by the United States and the North Korean Command signed a truce.
However, as a result of recent tensions in the region and the recent UN sanctions, North Korea announced on May 27 that it had unilaterally withdrawn from the armistice. While life on Korea’s streets goes on unchanged, North Korea and South Korea are back at war, in which the United States, which has declared its support to South Korea, has also got involved.
Further, U.S. officials seem not to understand the seriousness of the present situation. Instead of solving the problem diplomatically, they repeatedly declare that tough measures should be imposed on North Korea, and that the U.S. military should inspect North Korean ships in search of weapons. But any such action will be regarded by North Korea as a provocation and could trigger military operations.
How can the North Korean problem be solved? In order to solve a problem, one needs to examine the cause. After the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, North Korea lost its traditional ally, which was the Communist Block. It cannot count on military assistance from Russia or China, but on its own forces alone. The fundamental problem for North Korea today is its own security. So it is quite logical that it has developed long-range missiles and atomic weapons even if by doing so it violated previously signed agreements and nonproliferation treaties. It is not the first country in the world that has done so.
It needs a strategic deterrence capability against its powerful opponents, such as South Korea and the United States. Therefore, it is unrealistic to ask North Korea to dismantle its nuclear program and not to develop ballistic missiles in exchange for food aid or economic benefits. Before making such demands, one has to initiate a peace process.
After the end of the Cold War, there were attempts to improve relations between North and South Korea. The peace process reached a zenith in June 2000, when the former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung met North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang.
This was the first meeting between leaders of the two Koreas since separate regimes were established on the Peninsula in 1948. They signed a four-point plan to develop mutual trust through economic development and cultural exchanges. However, the opposition of South Korean conservatives at home and U.S. conservatives abroad put a damper on the peace process. The hard-line policy of the Bush administration forcing North Korea to end the nuclear program before discussing peace at the negotiation table caused negative effects on both the U.S.-North Korea relations and the inter-Korean relations.
For North Korea there is no room for negotiation when it faces a hard-line policy. It reacted by embracing a confrontational policy and it shocked the world by its admission that it had developed nuclear weapons. The auspicious historical moment to reach a peaceful agreement between Koreans and to formally end the Korean War was lost.
The election of Barack Obama as U.S. President has inspired many people with the hope that he can overcome some of the deficiencies of the Bush administration. Indeed the United States tries now to conduct its foreign policies in a more multilateral way and to act through the UN Security Council.
However, American thinking about international politics has not essentially changed. The United States still believes in might, and tries to impose its views on others without engaging them in a proper dialogue. Guided by the assumption that North Korea would not easily give up its nuclear capacity, and persuaded by the conservative South Korean government of Lee Myung-bak, the Obama administration has adopted the policy of tough measures and sanctions.
In the new climate of multilateralism, the approval for these sanctions is sought through the international community. However, the question is what will be the result of these sanctions?
For the time being the only visible result is the growing escalation of tensions in the region and a possibility of the conflict in which nuclear weapons could be used.
To solve the Korean crisis one needs to return to the peace process which was once initiated by former President Kim and supported by former U.S. President Bill Clinton.
The common interest of both Koreas, but also of the whole world, is peace. So North and South Korea should sign a peace treaty formally ending the Korean War, give up unification ambitions, recognize themselves as two independent states, enter into normal diplomatic relationships, mutually respect their ideological dissimilarities and no longer treat themselves as enemies but rather as partners in cooperation.
The problem of atomic weapons and ballistic missiles will then automatically be solved.
North Korea is currently in a state of serious insecurity, and sanctions and a hard-line approach make the prospect of war more likely. It’s worth repeating, despite the obviousness, conflict on the Korean Peninsula will be a disaster for both countries and the rest of the world.
*The writer is an associate professor at The School of International Studies, Kyung Hee University.
by W. Julian, Korab-Karpowicz