[Viewpoint] North crisis response a complex task

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[Viewpoint] North crisis response a complex task

An unexpected, serious instability within North Korea, what we would call “an emergency,” has been the biggest security concern on the Korean Peninsula since the 1990s.

Constant economic crises caused by aggregated systematical contradictions, routine violations of international norms including those prohibiting nuclear development and a lack of transparency in its political structure are the main reasons for the periodic rise in concerns about internal instability in the North.

If North Korea ever becomes extremely unstable, the impact will not be limited to the North alone.

Lost or stolen weapons of mass destruction, humanitarian disasters or mass defections would lead to instability on the peninsula and in Northeast Asia as a whole.

We also need to keep in mind that the North Korean regime might provoke the South when faced with a crisis, and neighboring countries could rush to intervene in case of an emergency. That’s why we need to be prepared thoroughly for all possible scenarios.

In the late 1990s, Korea and the United States jointly drafted Conplan 5029, which contains a basic framework for managing instability in North Korea.

According to recent reports, Seoul and Washington seem to be working together to make the plan more specific and detailed, and such efforts are certainly welcome.

Since preparing for instability in the North requires tremendous diplomatic, economic and intelligence capacities as well as solid military management, this is an issue that cannot be taken for granted in terms of the alliance between Korea and the United States.

In order for the joint efforts of Korea and the United States to be more effective, we need to pay special attention to the following issues.

First of all, while we certainly need to be prepared for political instability in the North, we should be careful not to be overwhelmed by wishful thinking and end up ignoring reality.

Considering the North as “a system destined to fall” will lead to relaxed, slack North Korean policy, and so will the naive idea that economic cooperation and exchange will encourage the North Korean leaders to change their ideology.

We need to reconsider the term “sudden change,” since it implies the belief that the revolutionary changes that happened in the Eastern European bloc and the former Soviet Union would be applied to North Korea as well.

We also need to shake off pre-established notions and seek the initiative. While we need to establish subjective awareness, if we start to be seen as exclusively demanding, we will have a hard time garnering cooperation from our neighbors.

Considering its extensive potential impact, North Korean instability is not just a problem for the Korean Peninsula but an international challenge.

We should be careful not to repeat the mistake of delaying Korea-U.S. joint preparations by coveting the lead role.

Diplomatic and strategic consultations and discussions on possible instability in the North should be expanded between Seoul and Washington.

At the core of joint bilateral action is the trust that the two countries are traveling down the same path toward a shared goal.

There have been considerable changes since the concerns about instability in the North emerged in the 1990s. North Korea has become more vulnerable internally and dangerous externally. The neighbors of the Korean Peninsula have grown more powerful and have even more divergent visions for the future.

The causes that could ignite an emergency have become more diverse.

Only if we maintain our composure over the North Korean situation and keep our eyes on the big picture can our North Korean policy be effective both in ordinary times and during an emergency.


*The writer is a chief of the North Korean Military Research Division at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses.Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Cha Du-hyeon
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