Military tensions between the two Koreas will increase and the process of resolving denuclearization will become more difficult, writes Gu Ho Eom, Director of Asia-Pacific Center, Professor of Graduate School of International Studies at Hanyang University.
First of all, we need to talk about the Yoon Seok-yeol administration’s North Korea policy.
In his inaugural address, president Yoon Seok-yeol said, “If North Korea stops developing nuclear weapons and converts to practical denuclearization, we will cooperate with the international community to prepare a bold plan to dramatically improve the North Korean economy and the quality of life of North Koreans.” The stance of exchanging economic aid for denuclearization seems very similar to the Lee Myung-bak administration’s North Korea policy.
The Yoon Seok-yeol administration is in a position to pursue ’peace through strength’, such as warning a strong response to North Korea’s military threat. President Yoon also put forward the principle of keeping the door open for dialogue, but resolutely responding to North Korea’s unreasonable actions. It is evaluated that the threshold for the inter-Korean summit has been further raised as the denuclearization negotiations are pursued according to the “principle of reciprocity”.
In addition, there is a possibility that the Yoon administration will raise the issue of human rights in North Korea. During his candidacy, President Yoon pledged to improve human rights in North Korea through the establishment (initiation) of the North Korean Human Rights Foundation and participation in the United Nations Co-Proposer of North Korean Human Rights Resolutions.
The position of the Yoon Seok-yeol administration, which emphasizes self-reliance and resolution of the North Korean problem through international cooperation, is different from that of the Moon Jae-in administration, but North Korea has not changed at all from its previous position. Therefore, tensions on the Korean Peninsula are likely to increase further.
From a geopolitical point of view, since the US-China relations and the US-Russia relations are likely to deteriorate further after the Ukraine crisis, the structure of the new Cold War between Korea, US, Japan, and North Korea, China and Russia will become clear over the Korean Peninsula. Inter-Korean relations are also locked in the structure of the new Cold War, so it will be difficult to expect any progress in relations.
Will the countries be able to conclude the long-awaited peace?
South Korea has alternately pursued an engagement policy and a pressure policy in successive governments, but both policies failed. Since North Korea has said that it will not give up its nuclear weapons even if the sky falls, it is a situation that requires a creative policy that will surprise the sky. Although there are opinions that every administration should has pursued consistent policies without changing position, personally, I do not think that the advancement of North Korea’s nuclear program is a product of South Korea’s failure in North Korea policy, since the basic framework of dialogue and deterrence has been maintained in a broad sense.
The current North Korean nuclear issue is similar to Joseph Heller’s novel Catch-22. Catch-22 is a paradox in which the attempt to escape makes escape impossible. Pyongyang believes that survival is impossible without nuclear weapons. Seoul is increasing pressure on denuclearization because it cannot advance inter-Korean relations without resolving the North Korean nuclear issue. North Korea regards denuclearization pressure as a threat to its survival and further advances its nuclear program. Attempts at denuclearization are making denuclearization more difficult.
How can the international community promote “détente” between countries?
First, the UN should play a more active role. Many UN-led peace conferences on the Korean Peninsula should be held. Gleb Ivashentsov, former ambassador to South Korea, has proposed holding a UN-sponsored peace conference on the Korean Peninsula in which UN Secretary-General, 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council, and South and North Korea participate.
I also think that the role of international civil society is important. For example, Global Partnership for Prevention of Armed Conflict launched the Ulaanbaatar Process in 2015. It is the only permanent civilian dialogue platform that has been active every year despite heightened military tensions on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia, enhancing understanding of regional situations and playing important role in building mutual trust.
And various international organizations need to actively invite North Korea to international conferences other than nuclear issues. For example, a multilateral conference on the safety of sea routes in the East Sea (Sea of Japan) proposed by Nikolai Pereslavtsev (Professor at the NevelskoyMaritime State University), is worth considering.
What scenarios for resolving crises can be used against the backdrop of growing international conflict?
A step-by-step and multi-method approach is the most realistic way to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis.
In the first stage, it is necessary to propose a “temporary agreement” to freeze North Korea’s nuclear activities. Although North Korea is subject to strong economic sanctions from the international community, it is in fact strengthening its nuclear capabilities every moment by concentrating on R&D and production of nuclear warheads and medium- and long-range missiles to the best of its ability without any internal or external restraints.
Therefore, it is necessary to propose a proposal for a “low-level nuclear agreement” that can be reached and implemented as soon as possible even with a low level of trust between the US and North Korea. When North Korea will dismantle the Yongbyon nuclear facility, the United States will simultaneously ease sanctions against North Korea on condition of a snapback.
Specifically, North Korea should promise a moratorium on nuclear testing and mid-range missile testing, halting nuclear weapons production, closing and verifying (verification) the fissile material production facility, dismantling the Yongbyon nuclear facility (dismantling), opening a mutual liaison office, and closing the medium-to-long-range missile facility. The US side should pledge to faithfully implement the Singapore Joint Statement, promise not to pursue a hostile policy toward North Korea, halt large-scale ROK-US joint maneuver exercises, start the process of normalizing relations between the two countries (negotiations? announcing an end-of-war declaration?), and ease some sanctions against North Korea (raised the upper limit on oil imports). It will be possible to reach agreements such as mediation, allowing some pure civil trade, applying snapback conditions to sanctions relief, comprehensive prior approval for humanitarian aid to North Korea, and providing humanitarian food and health and quarantine assistance.
At the same time, it is necessary to more actively promote humanitarian aid to North Korea in order to create an atmosphere for the resumption of the North Korean nuclear negotiations. In particular, it is necessary to actively provide food, health and quarantine support during the coronacrisis.
As the next step, it is necessary to simultaneously promote various bilateral and multilateral meetings for a non-nuclear peace regime on the Korean Peninsula. Specifically, for the completion of a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula, it is necessary to conclude an inter-Korean framework act, normalize North Korea’s diplomatic relations with the US and Japan, and a peace agreement on the Korean Peninsula. Therefore, along with progress in the denuclearization of North Korea, it is necessary to secure substantial progress by operating the Inter-Korean Framework Act negotiation, negotiating the establishment of diplomatic relations between North Korea and Japan, negotiating the establishment of diplomatic ties between North Korea and Japan, and a four-party peace forum between the two Koreas, the US and China.