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ENGAGING NORTH KOREA

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2000-03-03 23:57
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NORTHEAST ASIA PEACE AND SECURITY NETWORK
***** SPECIAL REPORT *****
***** NAUTILUS POLICY FORUM ONLINE (#00-02) *****

ENGAGING NORTH KOREA

"Make South Korea the Real Party to North Korea"
By Indong Oh, M.D.
March 2, 2000

The NAPSNet contributions to the Nautilus Policy Forum Online are
intended to provide expert analysis of contemporary peace and
security issues in Northeast Asia, and an opportunity to
participate in discussion of the analysis. The Forum is open to
all participants of the Northeast Asia Peace and Security Network
(NAPSNet).

A world wide web version of this report can be found at:
http://www.nautilus.org/fora/security/0002B_Oh.html

As always, Nautilus invites your responses to this report.
Please see "Nautilus Invites Your Responses," below, and send
your responses to the NAPSNet Coordinator at:
napsnet@nautilus.org.

Copyright (c) 1998 Nautilus of America / The Nautilus Institute

--------------------
Contents:
I. Introduction
II. Essay by Indong Oh
III. Nautilus Invites Your Responses

I. Introduction

The following article is by Indong Oh, M.D., a fellow and director of
Korea-2000, a Los Angeles-based research council on Korean unification.
Dr. Oh argues that the continuance of US wartime operational control over
ROK forces under the Combined Forces Command hinders the realization of
ROK-DPRK dialogue. He calls for shifting the emphasis in peace talks
away from US-DPRK bilateral talks and towards direct inter-Korean
negotiations.

II. Essay by Indong Oh

Two issues have recently emerged in the Korean peninsula, namely the
massacre of hundreds of South Korean civilians by U.S. soldiers during
the Korean War, and S. Korean soldiers who became the victims of exposure
to the highly toxic defoliants used in late 1960s along the southern edge
of the demilitarized zone (DMZ). The former is being investigated by the
U.S. in cooperation with the South Korean authorities. In the latter
case however, S. Korean civic groups already charge that the U.S. is
responsible for the victims because its army did not have any authority
in military operations on its own. Depending upon how the U.S. handle
these cases, they may trigger tension and increase South Korean peoples'
resentment against the U.S. As these incidents are examined, they bring
up larger questions on the general issue of U.S.-S. Korea relations,
specifically on military affairs. Up until late 1994, operational
control of S. Korean Armed Forces during war or peacetime had been in the
hands of the commander of U.S. Forces Korea. Accordingly, any military
actions of S. Korean armed forces had been decided and conducted under
the direction of the U.S., and therefore any resultant mishaps on the
side of South Korean armed forces can be blamed on the U.S. military
authority. This peculiarly paradoxical and subservient relationship of
S. Korea to the U.S. was once again evidenced as recently as in the last
June. It simply started with the North-South gunboat confrontation in
the Yellow Sea; however as war preparedness rose, the U.S.-S. Korean
military arrangement kicked in, whereby beyond Defcon 3 the U.S. is
supposed to command the U.S.-S. Korean Combined Forces. With flurried
Korean media reports that U.S. fighter planes, reconnaissance crafts,
submarines, and a nuclear carrier were approaching the Korean peninsula,
S. Korea's identity seemed to fade away from the scene, with the U.S.
becoming the main player with N. Korea in the hostile theatre. This
reflects well the intricate inter- and cross-relationships between the
two Koreas and the U.S. It actually shows the limit of S. Korea's
capacity to deal with its northern half on military and political fronts.

Not long ago the U.S. secured a moratorium on N. Korea's missile tests in
exchange for further relaxation of economic sanctions and an improved
diplomatic relationship. Returning the remains of American MIAs during
the Korean War from North Korea is no longer through the UN Command. It
now is a direct deal between the U.S. and North Korean governments. The
U.S. has entered into a new phase of direct engagement with N. Korea
without having to involve its ally, S. Korea. On the other hand,
concurrently with an anticipated U.S.-N. Korea normalization process, S.
Korea is gearing up for a better chance of North-South Korean
governmental dialogue. However, that is not likely to happen unless
there is a fundamental change in the U.S.-S. Korea relationship.

When it comes to military or political issues, N. Korea does not
recognize S. Korea as a legitimate counterpart; the U.S. is the real
party because N. Korea perceives the U.S. as the mastermind of the S.
Korean military. The command authority of S. Korean armed forces was
turned over to the U.S. general immediately following the outbreak of the
Korean War in 1950. After the truce the U.S. gave back some control to
S. Korea, but it still retains operational control of South Korean armed
forces during "wartime." Therefore, S. Korean military affairs are in
reality under the control of the U.S. president. The North has
capitalized on this, calling the South a puppet of the U.S. and insisting
on dealing with the U.S. on any important issues. North Korea, after the
armistice agreement in 1953, had initially proposed a peace pact to South
Korea, until 1974 when it started demanding a peace pact only with the
U.S. because S. Korea does not have the capacity to guarantee a peace
treaty.

In fact the U.S. has been calling the shots with N. Korea all along. A
U.S. general talks with his Northern counterpart at the Military
Armistice Commission at Panmunjom, and the U.S. negotiated with the North
on its nuclear programs in Geneva, even though the primary target of such
weapons would be the South. The same goes for the missile development
and biochemical weapons programs of the North.

This uniquely subservient U.S.-S. Korea relationship acts as an obstacle
to North-South Korean dialogue by providing a pretext for the North to
exclude the South in negotiations. Even the Four-Nations' Talks have
become a theater where mainly the U.S. and N. Korea talk and China and S.
Korea play second fiddle. So the vicious cycle goes on. It has been a
longstanding U.S. policy that peace and unification for Korea should be
resolved by the two Koreas themselves and that the U.S. is willing to
assist in their efforts. The U.S. often states that it encourages inter-
Korean dialogue, and such a U.S. stance was even included in the Geneva
Agreed Framework with North Korea in 1994. However, at the same time the
U.S. seems reluctant to clear off obstacles toward advancing such a
North-South dialogue.

It may not be necessary for the U.S. to continue carrying S. Korea, which
has now become the twelfth largest economic power in the world. S.
Korea's population is twice that of the North, and its economic strength
is over 20 times greater. As well, its military capability has been
conspicuously upgraded with ultra-modern arms. Furthermore, recent
statistics show that South Korea's annual military budget of about $17
billion is almost the same as North Korea's entire GDP. Yet this $17
billion is only about 3 percent of South Korea's GDP. Many speculate
that N. Korea spends almost 28 percent of its GDP on its military, yet
the total is less than one-third of the South's. Experts in military
affairs profess that the balance of military power definitely favors the
South. On the other hand, N. Korea has been in the mire of economic
crisis since the early 1990s, and millions are now believed to be dead
from famine. Out of desperation, N. Korea seems to be pursuing a
strategic weapons program for its survival and as a bargaining chip.

Commanding authority of one's armed forces is a fundamental right of a
sovereign state. Forty five-odd years have passed since the Forgotten
War ended, and it seems the U.S. has really forgotten to return the
operational control of a supposedly independent state's armed forces.
What is more puzzling is the fact that S. Korea has not come forward
openly to the U.S. to reclaim its sovereign right so that it can become
the de facto counterpart to the North on military issues. No other
allies of the U.S. have such an awkward relationship as the S. Korean
military does. Neither does the U.S. need to be the hostage of North-
South tension, nor does it need to be another scapegoat of potential
military actions in the future by exercising an ally's command authority.
In today's vastly changed landscape of the Korean peninsula, it is high
time for the U.S. to consider fully relinquishing its reign over S.
Korean military and letting our ally become a fully autonomous and
legitimate real party to N. Korea. With such an insightful vision, the
U.S. can help its ally help itself and bring the dawn of a long-overdue
peace process to the Korean peninsula in the 2000s.

III. Nautilus Invites Your Responses

The Northeast Asia Peace and Security Network invites your
responses either to these comments or to the original essay.
Please send responses to:
napsnet@nautilus.org (preferably using "response to forum #00-02"
as the subject). Responses will be considered for redistribution
to the network only if they include the author's name,
affiliation, and explicit consent.

********************

Produced by:

The Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainable Development

Timothy L. Savage, NAPSNet Coordinator
Wade L. Huntley, Asia/Pacific Security Program Director
Gee Gee Wong, Security Program Assistant