Special Report : Indong Oh on ROK-DPRK Summit

2000-06-09 00:07
***** SPECIAL REPORT *****

June 8, 2000

The following article was written by Indong Oh of Korea-2000. Dr. Oh
argues that the ROK-DPRK Summit offers new hope for achieving a permanent
peace regime on the Korean peninsula. To do so, however, the US must
first return operational control to the ROK military, dissolve the UN
Command, and agree to eventual withdrawal of US forces.


Time To Commit to Peace Regime in the Korean Peninsula

By Indong Oh, Korea-2000

Military Stalemate and Political Solution

Even after the end of the Cold War, cold currents persist in the
Korean peninsula on the heavily armed and fortified Military
Demarcation Line (MDL) and De-Militarized Zone (DMZ). Almost two
million soldiers are packed in a land about the size of the State
of Utah.

The US often cites North Korea as a major security threat to it.
If the North Korean missile that crossed over Japan but never
near US territory constitutes a threat, then the US has to admit
that North Koreans will feel a genuine and immediate threat from
American troops who often carry out large-scale war exercises
against them. Since the South has conspicuously built up its
military with ultramodern arms, the urgency of the US mission to
defend or deter against possible North Korean aggression seems to
have faded. The US force in South Korea is no longer considered
to be the guarantor of peace, but it seems to be the cause of the
fragility of peace, and of tension.

Contrary to conventional belief, North Korea is not considered to
be in a position to wage a war against South Korea or the US; to
do so would be suicide. If North Korea is driven into a corner
by outside forces, however, it possesses the capacity to inflict
huge casualties to the South before it succumbs. Its artillery
can pour down on Seoul where a quarter of the population resides,
and its short- and medium-range missiles can strike a dozen
nuclear reactors, turning the entire South Korea into an inferno.

General Gary Luck, former commander of the US forces in South
Korea and US-South Korea Combined Forces Command (CFC), estimated
that a million people, including as many as 100,000 Americans,
would have been killed when the US nearly plunged into a conflict
in mid-1994 over the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)
crisis with the North. The eventual outcome could be the
extinction of the North Korean regime, but could the US justify
such an armed conflict? South Koreans may be the first to oppose
such US actions against their brethren in the North as they did
during the NPT crisis.

Contrary to once favored predictions, North Korea did not
collapse, and it shows no signs of implosion either in spite of
its dragging economic blights. And many now believe it should
not collapse, since collapse may mean the next Korean War. So
the military stalemate continues.

Although North Korea is in the mire of economic crisis, its main
aim seems not to be economic aid but political gain. It
perceives the US forces in the South to be the most serious
security threat. North Korea wants to remove the threat;
otherwise it seems that it has to continue its missile and
weapons of mass destruction programs at the sacrifice of its
people's welfare. In view of its grave inferiority in military
strength, missiles are vitally important to North Korea for
survival of the regime. Therefore, the economic incentives alone
recommended in the Perry process are not likely to get North
Korea to give up its one remaining bargaining chip, the missile

North Korea's other bargaining chip, the suspected nuclear
weapons program, has already been taken away by the Geneva Agreed
Framework, even though it has not gotten what it was promised
from the US. Thus, it seems North Korea does not want to take
the risk of giving up its last leverage and end up not receiving
the reciprocal measures. For the North it could be a matter of
survival or extinction.

Between the US and North Korea, which would be able to take risks
without jeopardizing their national security? The US, as the one
and only super-power of the world today, would be able to afford
to take such risks with a much greater margin of safety than the
North. Thus, it is conceivable that North Korea wants the US to
tie the missile deal to a peace agreement and the dissolution of
the United Nations Command (UNC). The US needs to make a bold
political decision to resolve this military stalemate of 50 years
involving half a dozen countries in Northeast Asia.

Awakening Koreans under New Leadership

Unlike his predecessors, Kim Dae Jung urged the US and Japan to
help the economically devastated North Korea. He also requested
that the US lift economic sanctions on North Korea and urged the
US and other Western countries to normalize relations with the
North. He is trying to help North Korea be a member of the
international community. His policy of reconciliation and
cooperation, and the corresponding response from Kim Jong Il of
the North, have led to multifaceted exchanges in humanitarian,
social, cultural and industrial fields in ever increasing
quantity and quality. .

With further practice of democracy in South Korea, open
discussion on real Korean problems from an objective and
historical context is spreading steadily. South Koreans, with
their changing awareness of their history and nation, may finally
realize who North Koreans really are to them. Withdrawal of the
US forces has also been advocated by increasing numbers of South
Korean civic groups. It is conceivable that such advocacy may
rapidly increase.

All of these changes in circumstances around the Korean peninsula
produced an agreement for a first ever summit meeting in June
2000 between the South and North since its division in 1945.
They initiated this one without intervention by a third party.
Korean people are excited about the outcome of the meeting, where
all their differences, mistrust, animosities and whatever else
will be talked about and where they will try to settle the

Judging from the number of dealings with the US that have
transpired during the 1990s, it becomes evident that North Korea
has been eager to improve relations with the US. Notably, in
recent years it has been conceding in many of its deals with the
US: the complete freeze of nuclear activity, permission to
inspect the underground facility and moratorium on missile tests
in exchange for the same old US carrots.

Meanwhile, enormously increased exchanges and intergovernmental
dialogue are progressing rapidly between the South and North,
both of which are preconditions to normalization with the US.
Unprecedented opportunities for rapprochement between the two
Koreas and the US, as well as among other involved countries, are
developing. It certainly looks like it is high time for the US
to look to its long-term interest and begin the process of
creating a sustainable peace regime in the Korean peninsula.

Time to Commit to a Peace Regime

The US has been insisting that North Korea must initiate tension
reduction measures first. The US seems reluctant to be directly
involved in a peace agreement with the North and wants to limit
any agreement to being between the North and South. Should that
be the case, the US would be better off by making South Korea a
fully-fledged autonomous state. Among other things, it would
return operational control of the South Korean military to the
president of South Korea so that the South could guarantee any
military pact it signs. By doing so, the US would be in a
position to stymie any North Korean attempt to preclude the South
from peace negotiations.

Once South Korea becomes a full-fledged sovereign state, a peace
agreement can be signed between the North and South. Then China
and the US can endorse the agreement as direct participants of
the Korean War.

However, if the US does not relinquish its reins over the South
Korean military, the US should sign with the North, while the
North and the South sign a separate peace agreement
simultaneously for completeness.

In any event it would be illogical and impractical, though, for
the US to be completely away from any peace agreement, in view of
its major role during and after the Korean War, and for
maintaining stability in Northeast Asia.

Both Koreas should work out an arms reduction plan through their
joint military commissions in accordance with the Basic Agreement
of 1991. Concurrently, the dissolution of the UNC would begin,
and the US could pronounce that it agrees with the principle of
eventual withdrawal of American troops as part of a
comprehensively negotiated peace regime including repeal of North
Korea's missile program.

Phased withdrawal of the US forces can be tied to the progress of
the arms reduction and the dissolution of North Korea's weapons
of mass destruction, including the nuclear and missile
development programs. Sustainable peace in Northeast Asia can be
achieved through the initiative of the US. In order to avoid
future conflict among the neighboring countries, it would be
desirable to make the unified Korea a nuclear-free, neutral
nation with no foreign forces stationed.

It is the Clinton administration that changed its policy toward
North Korea from the containment policy to the engagement policy,
and that has brought us to the stage where the last remaining
Cold War anachronisms can be swept away. Through concerted
efforts by the directly involved countries, an unprecedented
opportunity has come along for the US to initiate leadership to
achieve a non-proliferation regime for stability and sustainable
peace in Northeast Asia by ending the so-called Forgotten Korean
War and bringing American soldiers home after 50 years.