Acting in the Right Way:
Korean Peace Regime and Northeast Asian Peace
 
                                                                                                                                                              Sun Jisheng
                                                              Professor of International Relations, China Foreign Affairs University

 

 

 

Peace on the Korean Peninsular is always an important part of the peace in EastAsia and the world as a whole. However, from what has happened in the recent one year, we can see that the situation on the Korean Peninsular is becoming more and more conflictual and dangerous. Frictions tend to increase and peace seems to be moving further away from this region. At this critical moment there are several aspects we need to consider about the ways of peace building in this region; otherwise, we might move toward the opposite direction.

 

I. Mutual Trust Establishment vs. the Construction of Long Lasting Hostility

 

The lack of trust is the source of security dilemma in the Korea Peninsular. Trust can lead to cooperation. If there is no trust between different parties, misunderstanding is very likely to occur. For the Korean Peninsular and East Asia, trust is the No.1 thing that countries should have toward each other. However, even within the framework of Six Party Talks, there is not enough mutual trust. For instance, North Korea always regards the US as the key factor influencing its survival and future development. Only the US can solve its security concern. However, it seems for North Korea, the US has never given up its intention of changing the Korean government or making it collapse. While for the US government, it has been using the policy of both "containment" and "engagement". While emphasizing the solution of the nuclear issue of the Korean Peninsular through diplomatic ways, the US has never given up the use of force or the threat of using force. Correspondingly, when the US policy is engagement, North Korea’s response would be soft when the US takes the containment policy, the DPRK would also be very tough and often created one crisis after another. Actually, this kind of interaction helped the construction of long lasting hostility between the two sides.

 

If there is no trust, even if the nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsular is solved, it is just an expedient way. It would be still difficult to establish peace in the region. The bilateral relation betweenNorth Korea and the US should be equal, peaceful with mutual trust, on the basis of which other things can be further talked about. Otherwise, even if some issues have been solved, they might just be a temporary solution. The top precondition is that the US needs to make North Korea feel safe. North Korea should also trust the US. Actually, North Korea being called a failed state or Axis of Evil these years will not take itself as an equal member of the international community. This kind of rhetorical interaction actually helps to construct and intensify the long term hostility between the two sides. 
  
II. Six Party Talks vs. the War of Words
 
Six Party Talks should continue to be a platform for dialogue, consultation and negotiation. Since the starting of the Six Party Talks in 2002, allparties involved really have made some progress concerning the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsular, although it came across difficulties once for a while. However, if this dialogue would be still on, this platform would be very helpful for the construction of a kind of consultative and friendly atmosphere. Sometimes, the atmosphere itself is even more important than the exact content negotiated on. Under this context, the action will carry more friendly meaning. On the contrary, the abandoning of the talks will cause more misunderstanding of the region.

 

Compared with Six Party Talks, the war of words will intensify the hostility among all sides. The war of words between North Korea and South Korea, between the US and North Korea is a very common phenomenon in the past years. This year, because of the Cheonan accident, the frequent joint military exercisesaccompanied by the war of words made the situation on the Korean Peninsular really tense. For the August 16-26 Korean US Joint military exercise, South Korean President Li said that it is one to safeguard world peace. North Korea was again listed as the major enemy of South Korea. While North Korea defined it as military provocation, saying that it would endanger the peace and stabilityof the Korean Peninsular and may even trigger nuclear war. In fact, language is also a very important factor for international relations. It can help to construct identity, threat, friendship and social reality. It influences the international process. We all know that it was with language that President Bush constructed the existence of the WMD in Iraqand launched the Iraq war. Therefore, all parties involved should try to avoid the kind of war of words on the Korean Peninsular. It can do nothing but strengthen the hostility and misunderstanding between different sides.

 

III. The Military exercisevs. the Abandoning of the Nuclear

 

   The frequent rehearsal in the region will make the North Korea feel more insecure and motivate North Korea to develop nuclear weapons. For such a poor country as North Korea, why did it want to develop nuclear weapons? The first one is national security and survival. After the Second World War, South Korea has been under the protection of the US nuclear umbrella. That adds the insecure feeling of North Korea. After George W. Bush took office, North Korea was listed as Axis of Evil with Iraq and Iran. Iraq set a clear example of US preemptive policy for North Korea. This kind of insecurity makes North Korea begin to play the nuclear card. However, the six party talks did not give the North Korea what it wanted to get; therefore, it began its strategy of "having nuclear arms". From what has happened in the past, we can see that every time when North Korea was threatened, it became very tough and then crises would follow. North Korea often played the brinkmanship quite well. North Korea during the negationsthese years hopes to normalize the relations with the US so to reduce its security pressure in the world. Meanwhile, North Korea can also use nuclear issue as a lever to return to the international community and get more economic aid.

 

The 2010 military exercise carries more meaning for North Korea. Although South Korea and the US hold military exercise every year, however, this year, it means more to North Korea. After the Cheonan accident, North Korea has been under great pressure. From August 16 to 26, the US and South Korea began the large scale military exercise, aiming to show forces to North Korea and force North Korea to give up its nuclear program and go back to the negotiations of Six Party Talks. However, it aroused the strong response from North Korea. It seems the military exercise and the show of forces did not quite follow the peaceful solution of the situation on the Korean Peninsular. North Korea said that it would also launch a retaliating sacred war in its own way. They even threaten they could use their nuclear deterring force. They would launch a comprehensive war. For North Korea, military exercise shows the strengthening of the allies between the US and South Korea and the enemy is of course North Korea. The military exercisemakes North Korea feel more insecure. Correspondingly, they say therehearsal is the preparation for the invasive war. North Korea will retaliate in their way. They can use nuclear. Under such situation, it seems we are moving opposite to the solution of the nuclear issue on the peninsular. The frequent military exercises seem to make the situation in the Korean Peninsular tenser. Therefore, we can see that the military exercise will cause more misunderstanding and tension in the region. Actually, they would damage the dialogue atmosphere. Under such situation, it would be very difficult to make North Korean abandon its nuclear development.

 

IV. Sanction vs. Solution

 

Sanction seems not the good way to establish peace on the Korean Peninsular. The way of sanction is no longer new for North Korea. Every time when some crises have occurred, sanction would be put on North Korea. But from what has happened in the past, it seems that the strong posture and the sanction can not work well for North Korea. During the crisis, every time when the US declares to put sanction againstNorth Korea, North Korea would be even tougher, often responding "sanction means wars." Similarly, after the Cheonan accident, the US began to put more economic sanctions towards North Korea. The relations between the two often become even worse. But for North Korea, theyhave their way to deal with it. In the speech by North Korea (at the 60 anniversary of 1950-1953 war), "Having war with the US does not mean much loss for North Korea except the military demarcation line. Koreans can still live on without sugar and butter, but can not live on without bullets and bombs. "Sanction could not prevent North Korea from developing nuclear weapons. On the contrary, it would stimulate North Korea to speed up its development of nuclear weapons, creating more tension in the region.

 

Sanction is not likely to cause the collapse of the North Korean government. Some people say that the economic sanction might cause the collapse of the DPRK government. But according to what has happened in the past, this is not likely to happen. Even during the 1994 famine, the government was still there. That is to say North Korea might have formed itsown way of running the government and operating the country in the past difficult years.
Even if sanctions can sooner or later work, the result is also not a pleasant one. If the international community continues to put more pressure and sanction to North Korea, one result might be the "hard landing" of the North Korean economy. According to the estimation of Swiss Credit Bank, it would need USD 67 billion to rebuild the North Korean economy in the next 30 years.

 

V. The Establishment of Security and Peace Regime in North East Asia

 

First, from what has been mentioned above, for the solution of the nuclear issue and the establishment of peace on the Korean Peninsular, the international community should put away the cold war mentality and take more practical methods. To give more pressure to North Korea seems not working. Accordingly, the US can take a step further and solve the security concern of North Korea. For instance, North Korea abandon nuclear weapons, the US can promise security for North Korea or normalize the relations between North Korea and the US. Actually, in the 1990s President Clinton has tried to do it through the Framework Agreement, but later was stopped. After that, the international community should help North Korea reform its economy so that it can embark on the right track as a member of the international community.

 

Second, Six Party Talks can continue to be a platform for the process. All parties should follow the principle: that everything should be solved in peaceful way instead of resorting to force and try to avoid the things that might damage the dialogue atmosphere of Six Party Talks. We should keep in mind that mutual trust is the precondition and all should try to establish and strengthen mutual trust toward each other. Then within the Six Party Talks, all parties should adopt more practical and sincere methods and strengthen communication, consultation and coordination.

 

Third, North East Asia should take long term peace as the ultimate goal for the region. People often talk about the denuclearization of the KoreanPeninsular. However, this should not be the final objective. According to international relations theories of liberalism, institutions and regimes can help to reduce anarchy of the world and promote cooperation. In this way, states can share information and makes things more transparent. The solution of the nuclear issue should aim to establish long term peace and securityregime of the peninsular, rather the solution of the nuclear issue itself. Accordingly, countries involved should sit together to establish some institutions or regimes as the basic framework for future interaction.

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