The long march aheadFor a while, the world has been promoting notions of a post-Cold War era and globalization, but today’s Korean Peninsula is on the brink of war. As if the Korean War was not brutal enough, the North is trying to start another one. This is humiliating.
Peace is not a necessary condition for human existence. It is an absolute, essential condition. And war on the Korean Peninsula has a history of becoming a global conflict as advanced weapons of East Asia as well as global superpowers were involved.
Even now, various advanced weapons developed from around the world are being concentrated to the Korean Peninsula. North Korea’s nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile programs now became the top security priority of the world in the 21st century.
There are two issues. First is how we can make a dramatic shift from the cycle of amplifying conflicts and confrontations to the cycle of easing tensions. The second is how we can establish the structure of peace and coexistence after resolving tensions. The two are linked, but the first problem is more urgent.
Where can we start? In order to shift toward a new direction, we must hold the reins of this vicious cycle. The most effective reign to stop the North is an oil embargo by China and Russia, but the option is currently impossible. U.S.-led sanctions and pressure cannot succeed without the support of China and Russia. South Korea has a critical role to play. There is room between Korea-U.S. alliance and Korea-China cooperation. There have been many successful precedents in history when an artful mediation was made between two clashing empires.
For the sake of the success of pressures and sanctions, a wise plan is needed to split the North from China and Russia. Creating a split by accepting the demands of enemies and turning them into friends is the key of winning. China and Russia have presented denuclearization and tension-easing roadmaps, similar to the previous plans presented by South Korea and the United States. The Korea-U.S. alliance must accept their roadmaps and implement them. China and Russia’s goal are also denuclearization and peace. Let’s accept the proposals of China and Russia. That will isolate the North against five concerned countries.
After splitting the North from China and Russia by accepting the proposals of Beijing and Moscow, the Seoul needs to find a new military measure that China cannot resist, while it can pressure the North more than the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system. When we find it, we can reconsider the Thaad deployment. There must be a way to turn the situation around.
After avoiding the course of the crisis, we must resume the journey for denuclearization and peace. The first step will be managing the North’s nuclear programs.
What if the North sells the technology of its nuclear and missile programs to outside terrorist groups for the sake of its regime security? And the South and the world will face Armageddon if the North decides to make a drastic choice of suicide bombing by using nuclear weapons.
The North’s latest slogans showed that its state is similar to the totalitarian neighbors that launched wars in the past. The world and the South Korean people must strengthen their determination for denuclearization and peace.
The second step will be allowing the North to become a member of the international community in line with the progress of denuclearization. North-U.S. relations are the only hostile ones that continue for generations.
The hostile relationship of the United States with other countries such as Russia, China, Vietnam, Germany and Japan all ended after years. The longest animosity ran 26 years, and the shortest six years. And yet, the North-U.S. animosity is running over 60 years. This is the longest in the modern history. The South may be able to improve these relations and it should in order bring about peace on the Korean Peninsula.
The third step will be giving up the ideas and policies of unification. After socialism collapsed, the South has devised various ways toward and theories about unification, but they all failed. While the South was paying attention to the ideas of unification, the North actually became a military superpower. Now, we must give up the duplicity of inter-Korean relations.
For the next generation, we must promote the universalism of peace and diplomacy. We must stop discussions of unification.
We should treat the North as a partner of security, peace, international relations and foreign affairs. The South and the North have the same ethnicity, language, history and territory, but their sovereignties, people and constitutions were never the same. The North even treats the South Korean people separately.
When the arrival of socialism is violent, its exit is often rather peaceful. The collapse of the Soviet Union, China’s reform, German unification and the collapse of the eastern European bloc are examples.
In human history, mainstream thought is always flexible and peaceful, but variants have long been malicious. North Korea’s hereditary dictatorship is critically harmful to the world. Kim Il Sung, the late grandfather of the current ruler, Kim Jong-un, started a war, which led to the horrors of massive casualties, national division and worsened the Cold War. His son and grandson destroyed the peace, human rights, coexistence and reconciliation of East Asia and the world with nuclear threats.
Before starting the long journey to peace, we must first stop to tie our shoelaces.
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 8, Page 35.
*The author is a professor of political science at Yonsei University.
More in Columns
A cautionary tale
A government in disarray
China’s thin skin
The Korean War from China’s view
Who’s laughing now?