The Sun News

The lesson of Korea (2)

The moment of truth arrived for the United States last week on its war of nerves with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), with the Koreans insisting tha t they must keep their nuclear weapons and the missiles that carry them, and the Americans insisting that they could not. It looked like a war might begin. But, then two US cabinet secretaries (Defence and State) penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal stating their preference for diplomacy, and pledging that regime change in North Korea was not among the aims of the US. That assurance must have been music in the ears of the Pyongyang regime.
After decades of confrontation over DPRK’s obsession with nuclear weapons, former US administration are beginning to murmur in public what they have been saying in secret, that the US should begin to accept the reality of North Korea’s nuclear weapons; that it is not worth going to war. |After all, the US got used to Pakistan’s and India’s nuclear acquisitions. If this sounds like the US eating the humble pie, the alternative is war — which means the obliteration of Seoul, the capital of South Korea, and the death of hundreds of thousands. That is if the war is fought with regular conventional weapons. No one has delineated what the picture would look like in a nuclear exchange. It is getting clearer, however, as the years go by, since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that nuclear weapons are not useable weapons. For one, military chiefs do not plan national defence with them. But the fear of nuclear weapons is probably their only use, which the North Koreans well understood. Iraq gave up its weapons and was invaded; Libya gave up its weapons and was destabilized.
It is clear the United States would not even contemplate sacrificing Guam for Pyongyang in a nuclear exchange, nor is it ready to stake Alaska to bury the entire North Korea in rubble.
The United States had the opportunity to prevent the current situation 20 years ago but could not pay the cost, which then was quite like peanuts. For instance in the so called “Agreed Framework” signed by both countries in October 1994, the DPRK had offered to abandon its nuclear reactors in return for two light water reactors, 500,000 tons of heavy fuel oil, for electricity and heating, and, most important to the North Koreans, a normalization of relations between their country and the United States, to end decades of sanctions and enmity since the beginning of the Korean War in 1950.
Part of the problem was American traditional miserliness in spending money abroad, a weakness the world has grown used to. The US is the richest country in the world, but you compare its giving to others, the US is the most tight-fisted. It doesn’t stop Republicans and the far right from thinking that the US is giving away all its wealth to an unappreciative world. |The North Koreans waited for years and none of the promises in the agreement was fulfilled.
Then in 2002 in his State of the Union Address, US President George W. Bush labeled Iraq, Iran and North Korea as the “axis of evil,” a prelude to the US invasion of Iraq and the beginning of a new controversy about DPRK cheating in the nuclear deal. The Framework agreement was literally put on hold as the US halted all further deliveries to North Korea. That was in December. The next month North Korea issued notice of its withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which, clearly, was an ominous signal. Two months later, North Korea reactivated its nuclear Yongbyon reactor. The issue was still within US control even in 2003 even after North Korea plaintively declared that it had made nuclear weapons. Efforts to reactivate the earlier agreement were made in what became known as the Six-Party Talks which involved the United States, Russia, China, Japan, South Korea and North Korea. Once again, DPRK stated its willingness to negotiate, but apparently having wasted eight years in the Framework agreement, it was no longer ready to wait or be dribbled by the US or anyone. But in 2005, North Korea agreed to “tentatively” to give up its entire nuclear program including weapons in exchange for energy assistance and the promise of normalization of economic and political relations.
It then became a cat and mouse game. In July 2006 North Korea test fired a long range missile. The UN Security Council passed a resolution demanding the suspension of that programme. But three months later DPRK announced it had tested its first nuclear weapon, which now brought a wide range of sanctions. But in February 2007 DPRK agreed, again, to close its main nuclear reactor in exchange for an aid package worth $400 million. In September, at the Six-Party talks in Beijing, North Korea signs an agreement to disable its nuclear weapons facilities.
By the time President Obama took over, the game had become truly advanced. In October 2008, the US removed DPRK from the list of states that sponsor terrorism. But in December talks broke down over DPRK refusal to allow international inspectors to visit some of its nuclear sites. Five months later North Korea announced its second nuclear test. This is probably the time the so-called “strategic patience” began. The rest is now history.
It is in dispute if DPRK would have been persuaded to forgo nukes given the geopolitical situation it found itself, surrounded as it is by China, Japan, and Russia. The only close ally it has is China, and both countries have a long history together since the Chinese Civil War when the North Koreans fought side-by-side with Mao’s Red Army for Chinese liberation. DPRK founder Kim Il-Sung’s service was so much appreciated by the Chinese. This is why it sounded unimaginable that the Chinese government would throw DPRK under the bus just to buy favour with President Donald Trump. It is therefore no surprise that China, even when it has misgivings about North Korea’s nukes, is unlikely to do much about it.
A new opportunity for diplomacy has now presented itself. The US should learn from its past and make peace once and for all with North Korea. Pyongyang is so poor and wretched it has sought to establish good relations with the US for decades but has been rebuffed due to arrogance. South Korea cannot enjoy its prosperity in security as long as its other half lives in penury and thousands of families are split across the 38th Parallel.
Much as China and Japan may not love the two Koreas to be united as one nation for their own selfish reasons, the United States should be making a worthwhile investment in the peace of the Korean Peninsula if it encourages the sprouting of unification structures which may in the near future lead to a unified Korea. There is no doubt that the Koreans themselves pray for such a future.


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May 2018
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