Springtime in Korea. Peace and love have erupted all over the mountainous peninsula as the leaders of the two rival nations seek to end the nearly seven decades of hostility between them.
One can’t underestimate the passionate longing felt by most Koreans on both sides of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) for some form of reunification – or at least reattachment – of the two nations. Amazingly, the 1950-53 Korean War has never been ended by a peace treaty so a simmering state of war exists between North and South Korea in spite of past attempts to end it. During the war, 33,686 Americans died and 128,600 were wounded, and the two Koreas suffered over 2 million dead. Chinese casualties were heavy.
The DMZ is probably the most heavily militarized frontier in the world, with hundreds of thousands of tough troops and thousands of tanks and guns confronting one another. I’ve seen few more impressive military sights. Only the Pakistani-India border in Kashmir offers a similar martial display and menace.
Kudos go to the leaders of North and South Korea for de-escalating the tensions between them. Both deserve a Nobel peace prize. Kim Jong-un and Moon Jai-in have made a great leap forward by trying to end the Korean War. Most Koreans – except for hard rightwing anti-Communist Christians in South Korea – are thrilled.
As a very long-time observer and friend of Korea, I too am elated by the Moon-Kim friendly summit and wish it success. But I’m also worried by the role of Washington.
President Donald Trump certainly broke the ice with North Korea and played a key role in setting peace talks into motion. Kudos to him.
But I’m also apprehensive that the so-called de-nuclearization issue may ruin the effort to end the Korean War. Washington demands that North Korea account for and then dismantle its nuclear weapons under US supervision. This is the key American position.
Interestingly, while making these demands, the US is pushing ahead with a new `smaller’ nuclear warhead program, the B61- Model 12, designed as a deep earth penetrator and for use against tactical targets. This $1 trillion program is designed for war-fighting, not deterrence. Critics warn it will make a nuclear war much more likely.
North Korea, which has a small number of long-ranged, nuclear tipped missiles of undetermined reliability, says its will ‘de-nuclearize’ to meet Washington’s demands. But why? North Korea is demanding ‘reciprocity’ from the US. So far, there is no sign of the US agreeing to shut its air bases in South Korea or Japan, remove nuclear weapons from North Asia, or remove some or all of its 28,500 troops in South Korea.
The Trump administration has convinced itself that a one-way deal with North Korea is possible. Its resident hardliners, John Bolton and Mike Pompeo, are believed to be hostile to any US concessions. They want North Korea to unconditionally surrender, not negotiate. Both are neocons who fear North Korea’s nukes might find their way to Israel’s mideast enemies. A deal between Washington and Pyongyang under President Bill Clinton was sabotaged by the neocons for this very reason.
North Koreans have been eating grass for a generation to acquire nuclear weapons. Would they give them up just for a slap on the back from Washington? Would China push Pyongyang in this direction? Highly doubtful. The world is only talking to Kim Jong-un because he has and can deliver nuclear weapons.
Even a lot of South Koreans are proud of Kim for making the mighty US back off.
South Korea’s president, Moon, has done bravura work in his new ‘sunshine’ policy.’ He is a courageous and clever man and a welcome change from South Korea’s former rightwing leaders who were totally under the thumb of the US. Koreans will do much better at settling their many differences if they are allowed to work out their problems without heavy-handed interference by outsiders, be they Americans or Chinese.
A good way to begin would be for the US to end its punishing economic warfare against North Korea and permanently halt its provocative military exercises each fall.
Two great powers, the US and Japan, are not eager to see Korea reunified into a powerhouse with 80 million industrious people. They will continue stirring the Korean pot.