Send UN peacekeepers to North

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Send UN peacekeepers to North


Nam Jeong-ho

Under the engagement policy in the early 2000s, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry officials came up with the ingenious idea of helping impoverished North Korea without causing controversy for being overly generous to Pyongyang. The idea was to turn North Korean soldiers into blue berets, referring to the light-blue colored helmet United Nations Peacekeepers wear.

The United Nations pays countries about $1,200 per person for deployment to the UN Peacekeeping Operations. To a wealthy country, this may not amount to much, but it can be a huge sum to poorer countries. Pakistan, Bangladesh and India have the largest number of soldiers dispatched for peace operations. They are sent to work for the UN partly because of financial reasons.

North Korea is poor and underdeveloped but is unquestionably powerful in terms of its military. Soldiers known to be well trained won’t likely have any problems serving in tricky conflict zones such as in Africa. Under heavy discipline, North Korean soldiers won’t likely become involved in committing rape and embezzlement, which sometimes occurs among servicemen in Africa. North Korea would be drawn to both the money and the fact that it could improve its image in international society.

South Korea was silently pleased with its clever idea. If North Korea could make money through honest activities overseas, financial aid would be less of a burden for Seoul. It could also silence some of the noise from conservatives who were critical of the liberal government’s behavior toward Pyongyang under the Sunshine Policy.

To participate in peacekeeping operations, Pyongyang would inevitably have to comply with the human rights changes demanded by the United Nations. Although drastic improvements may not be made overnight, the momentum could have been an important starting point. But the idea went down the drain with the first detonation of a nuclear device by Pyongyang in 2006.

But the plan doesn’t need to be entirely canceled. It could be tweaked. Instead of including North Koreans in blue helmet missions, we could suggest deploying international peace watchers in North Korea.

The isolated country has become increasingly unpredictable under young, third-generation leader Kim Jong-un after he had his uncle and second-in-command Jang Song-thaek executed late last year.

The potential danger of a sudden breakup in the dynastic regime is always apparent. If the long-standing rule is challenged, the country, which has never known freedom or a leader outside the Kim family, could be swept up in unimaginable turmoil. There are many gloomy and perilous scenarios, but one thing is certain: China won’t let things get out of hand. China will be most affected if North Korea crumbles from fear of thousands of North Koreans fleeing across the border. It won’t be able to handle the rush of North Korean refugees.

Beijing has long been prepared for such a hazard. China has been building up its military in the northeastern part of the country, where it shares a border with North Korea. It has been moving tanks and armored vehicles.

The People’s Liberation Army has conducted large-scale military drills in the northeastern city of Shenyang, which also included floating carriers on the Yalu (Apnok) River separating the two countries. In January, combat troops held winter exercise in Mount Baekdu, which stands between the two countries. It is raising its combat readiness against any sudden crisis in the hermit kingdom.

Beijing formerly maintained that it won’t interfere with any of the domestic affairs of sovereign states. Its state mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, highlighted that China differs from Russia, which invaded and claimed sovereignty over Crimea following its division from Ukraine.

But Beijing always attaches one condition. It won’t tolerate any conflict with its national interests. If a mass exodus floods Chinese borders and puts its security and public safety at risk, it would act. In other words, China will move into North Korea if it deems it is in danger.

U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Policy Glyn Davies admitted that Washington and Beijing were discussing the possibility of dramatic changes in Pyongyang.

With global powers moving fast to ready against a potential peril triggered by Pyongyang, we must map out a contingency plan too. We cannot just watch North Korea fall into Chinese hands.

One possible option is for Seoul to campaign for a UN peacekeeping presence in North Korea, largely manned by South Korean personnel.

South Korea has been one of the longest and most devoted members of the United Nations. The UN sent its first allied troops to the 1950-53 Korean War. The Korean Peninsula is currently at peace under UN command. Korean national Ban Ki-moon is heading the organization. He can help Seoul to make its pitch on a peacekeeping operation in North Korea.

If we drag our feet, we may lose the historical chance of realizing a peaceful reunification. Even if the Kim regime falls, the North Korean mainstream won’t likely allow South Koreans or Americans on their soil. If Beijing makes the first move, a peaceful Korean union may never happen. The most realistic option is the UN, or a multinational presence.

To raise our assertiveness on peacekeeping operations in North Korea, we must bolster peacekeeping contributions to the UN. Even Secretary General Ban has been critical of the poor South Korean commitment to UN operations. South Korea deploys 618 personnel on the peacekeeping mission - 35th on the global rank. The UN peacekeeping mission does not simply carry a humanitarian purpose. In the long run, our role in the peacekeeping operation could be critical for our unification goal.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 30, Page 28

*The author is a senior writer on international affairs of JoongAng Ilbo.

BY Nam Jeong-ho

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