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☞ Issue 242
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U.S.-DPRK Relation

Role Player-North Korea

Moon J. Pak (2015/11/23 08:42)  

By Moon J. Pak
Sixty-two years is a lot of time to decide something is not working.

It is hard not to think about the recent marking of 70 years since the division of Korea into North and South, and recent commemoration of 62 years since the end of the war, as anything but the anniversary of a big failure of U.S. policy on Korea.

Actually the Korean War was technically ended with an armistice agreement; the promised peace treaty between the U.S. and North Korea never materialized. The relationship between the two, to this date is an “Armistice,” a temporary cessation of armed conflict. No normal peaceful diplomatic relationship exists between the two countries to this date, after nearly two generations.

During this period of well over a half century, the two countries have engaged in a continuous series of hostile events. It is of note to realize that in every one of these near catastrophes, from the Pueblo incidence of 1968, to the sinking of the South Korean navy ship Cheonan, the Yeonpyeong Island shelling in 2012 and most recently the explosion at the DMZ plus the tension due to the joint military maneuvers, U.S. is the perpetual partner of enmity with North Korea.

If both Koreas and their 70 million people continue to slide towards war, the consequences would be an unconscionable holocaust. There is wide agreement about this. Yet why is international policy to prevent war so static?

The two consecutive liberal South Korean administrations of Dae-jung Kim and Moo-hyun Roh made two epic attempts for the peace: the 6-15 Agreement (2000); and the 10-4 Announcement (2007). However, on neither occasion was there formal support or encouragement from the U.S. On the contrary, the U.S. continued its usual hostile policy against North throughout this period. In particular, there have been continuing annual war games with the South Korean Army, where the two forces practice for battle against the North. Incursions into disputed waters during these war games were the cause of some of the shelling that cost people their lives.

The only notable U.S. effort to encourage peace in the peninsula, the “Agreed Framework” signed in Geneva in 1994 between the U.S. and North Korea, was nullified by President George W. Bush when he branded the North as one of the three countries of Axis of Evil. The Agreed Framework came about only because of an imminent threat by the North to increase its nuclear weapon effort.

Another effort, the so-called Six-Party Talks, have been held intermittently over the years among the six major international players of the region; the two Koreas, China, Russia, Japan, and the U.S. Lengthy and tedious, the Six-Party Talks persisted over several years with occasional glimpses of hope for peaceful resolution of the situation between the U.S. and the DPRK. These talks were held mainly to stop the emergence of a nuclear North Korea, but no resolution has materialized.

Why has nothing worked? It is mostly due to the lack of sincerity on the part of the U.S.

Simply stated, the U.S. policy on North Korea for the last 62 years has been a failure, regardless of its objectives; whether it was to realize the collapse of the DPRK with an emergence of a reunited country friendly to the U.S. or to establish a peaceful international relationship with North Korea. Time has borne out that whatever the involved parties have been doing is not working.

Analyzing this failure, it becomes obvious that the reasons for it stem from a lack of clear and persistent policy objectives; a lack of seriousness on the part of the U.S. to change the status quo; and a lack of its cultural understanding of North Korea. There seems also to be a persistent and dogged refusal to understand the situation in the face of growing evidence that the current recipe of trade sanctions, military pestering, and refusal to talk to one another are not bearing fruit.

This failure of the U.S. to progress with its North Korea policy has had a tremendous effect on the current status of the DPRK. It now has a GDP only about $30 billion, but by spending over 35 percent of it for its national defense, it has grown to be the fifth largest military with 1.2 million armed personnel. It became de facto nuclear power, the seventh in the world, with intercontinental delivery technology, including submarine launching capabilities.

The DPRK also possesses a huge underground fortification containing most of its air power as well as one of the world’s largest submarine fleets. They refer to their nuclear capability as “nuclear deterrence” emphasizing its defensive nature. In recent years, the DPRK’s leadership has turned from military development to economic development.

It became obvious that President Obama’s “Strategic Patience” is a strategy of failure. It is also obvious that a policy metamorphosis to establish a normalized, peaceful relationship between the two countries is essential. North Korea has been advocating such a peaceful settlement of affairs ever since the end of the War in 1953.

In the time he has left in office, Obama must scrutinize his administration’s policies toward North Korea just as he recently looked at Cuba and Iran. In dealing with both Iran and Cuba, the Obama leadership saw the failure of U.S. policy based on a long history of enmity and isolation, and turned these policies around, toward a goal of normalized diplomatic international relationships with these two former enemies.

However, from the perspective of a Korean American steeped in the culture of U.S., and as a person experienced in working with North Korea on the issues of eventual peninsula reunification, it is clear to me that dealing with the DPRK is distinctly different from dealing with Cuba or Iran. It is also clear that North Korea must also be a player, as were Cuba and Iran, in persuading the U.S. to modify its formerly strict policies of sanctions and controls.

In other words, there are roles to be played by the North Korea that will distinctly and actively influence the North Korea policy of the U.S.

One of the most important roles of North Korea is to change its public image in the U.S. During the era of Clinton administration, the image was more neutral and diplomatic and a favorable progress was happening between North Korea and the U.S. The “Agreed Framework” was in effect the result of high-level government officials visiting each other’s capitals. Since then, the image of North Korea has been eroded in U.S. society, mostly by the actions of the Bush administration and the conservative media of that era.

The DPRK also has to bear some responsibility for its tarnished image. The typical harsh rhetoric used in its government announcements, improper timing of certain scientific or military events, and awkward sponsoring of certain American sports figures by the North Korean authority all contributed to this unfortunate erosion of the reputation of the DPRK in the American public mind.

In the recent past, the single most destabilizing factor, in terms of image, for the international relationship between the two countries, is the attention paid to the so-called human rights issue due to the accounts told by some of North Korean defectors, who have given testimonies in autobiographical books, to the media, and in front of official inquiries. However, some such testimonies have been brought into question; there is no documentation to support their claims, and they have not been questioned about their stories by North Korean representatives.

Regardless of the circumstances, the defectors left their country illegally. This kind of lack of border security is astounding, in view of the general perception of the country of North Korea as being a tightly controlled entity.

Dealing with the image issue will also require some work on the U.S. domestic front. A significant number of U.S. citizens are liberal thinkers, Korea experts, former diplomats, think-tank researchers, and academics versed in Korean peninsula matters. North Korea should reach out to this sector, to organize them into an interest group, a kind of “U.S.-DPRK Friendship Society”, which could have functions such as an active political action and lobbying group and an academic research branch, and even promotion of tourism.

The membership of such a group must also contain North Korean citizens, diplomats, and Korean Americans with appropriate expertise. The American members should be given an open visa to allow them to visit North Korea at any time. They should meet regularly in the U.S. as well as in Pyongyang and sponsor many peace and security conferences.

North Korea may take steps directly under its proper government branch to actively encourage tourism by U.S. citizens who want to travel to North Korea. Interested Americans would certainly include Korean War veterans, U.S. students interested in Korean studies, separated Korean Americans visiting for family reunions with North Korean family members, and academicians whose research would benefit from a visit to the DPRK.

In the past, North Korean performing artists and athletes were welcomed here in U.S. Opera singers, classical music performers, dancers, table tennis groups, string quartets, even Pyongyang Symphony Orchestra could perform in the U.S. Even People’s Army Choir would be appreciated in New York, like in olden days, when the Soviet Army Chorus was welcomed and listened to with interest in U.S. The Moranbong Modern Music Group, which I have seen, would be a hit, here in the U.S.

North Korean nuclear weapons system casts a dark image among U.S. citizens. Americans are not aware that as far as North Korea is concerned, the nuclear weapons initiative represents a force for deterrence. To alleviate this perception, a dramatic proposal could be made by the highest leadership of the country, offering a joint control of its nuclear weapons system between the two Koreas, thus alleviating the general concern by the people that the nuclear weapons system is under unstable and uncertain control.

To expedite and carry out much of the enhanced exchange programs mentioned above, and more to come, North Korea could present a proposal to the U.S. for the establishment of “Liaison Offices” in each other’s capitals, Pyongyang and Washington, D.C., which may not be staffed by formal diplomatic representatives, but as non-governmental offices.

These kinds of North Korean initiatives could be a powerful “Peace Offensive” to counteract the cold war still ongoing between North Korea and the U.S.

More than 62 years of unending war has made no progress; why not give peace a chance?
(Korean Quarterly, Fall, 2015)

Moon J. Pak, M.D., Ph.D.
Senior VP, KANCC (Korean American National Coordinating Council)

U.S.-DPRK Relation

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