The United States has just unilaterally implemented the biggest and most aggressive sanctions regime against the DPRK in its history. Hours later, Donald Trump stated,
“If the sanctions don’t work, we will have to go to phase two, and phase two may be a very rough thing, may be very, very unfortunate for the world”.
When one remembers that this is the same Trump who threatened to “destroy” North Korea while speaking at a supposed forum for peace, the UN General Assembly and that prior to that he promised to rain “fire and fury” on North Korea, the likes of which “the world has never seen”, his new remark while incredibly crude, troubling and downright frightening, is nevertheless not surprising.
What is also not surprising is that Trump’s statement is the most blunt rhetorical confirmation to-date, that the United States is far more frightened of the prospect of peace in Korea than the prospect of war – as strange as this might sound.
When the US said that North Korea was an unreasonable state wishing to inflict violence upon its neighbours, they were lying. When the US said that Kim Jong-un is a pathological tyrant hell bent on war, they were lying. Most importantly, when the US said they wanted peace on the Korean peninsula, they were lying.
These facts were always clear to those with an understanding of the modern history of the two Korean states, as well as those who actually bothered to listen from the statements coming from the desks of both Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
The election of Moon Jae-in to the office of President was something of a momentous day, not only for scandal ridden South Korean politics, but for the region as a whole. Gone was the arch war monger Park Geun-hye who was subsequently imprisoned on charges relating to corruption and into the picture came Moon, a man who would have become President in 2012 had Park’s intelligence service not meddled in the election.
Moon is often viewed as a compromised figure due to the fact that the US has an inordinate amount of influence on South Korean politics. Nevertheless, Moon’s peace credentials have always been genuine. His recent visit to China has led to Seoul’s relations with Beijing reaching an all-time high with suggestions from unofficial South Korean sources indicating that Moon is as furious with America’s delivery of THAAD missile systems to the Korean peninsula as the Chinese government is. The fact that for the first time in history, Beijing’s relations with Seoul are warmer than its relations with Pyongyang, is as much testament to Moon’s style of leadership as it is to the personal and policy disputes which for several years have quietly raged between officials in Pyongyang and Beijing.
But the key event in prompting the wide ranging meetings held in early 2018 between officials from the two Korean states was the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok. During the meeting in September of 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed a tripartite economic/energy cooperation scheme which would involve both Korean states. At the time Moon, who was present at the summit, embraced Putin’s proposals without reservations while the DPRK delegation stated that they would sign up to the proposals in due course once various regional security concerns were met.
When taken together with statements from the DPRK which always made it clear that Pyongyang will be happy to negotiate with Seoul once nuclear parity with the US is reached, it is self-evident that Putin’s proposal along with subsequent diplomatic visits by Russian politicians and Foreign Ministry officials to the DPRK have paid off.
Now that North Korea and most objective military experts are confident in the fact that Pyongyang can deliver a nuclear warhead anywhere on US territory, Kim Jong-un’s government will be satisfied with the fact that nuclear parity has been reached. In the context of North Korean statements, nuclear parity means that the DPRK will be able to deliver a nuclear weapon to the US with comparative ease vis-à-vis that which the US could deliver to Korea. Because this important threshold has been reached, North Korea is ready to take the preliminary steps towards rapprochement with the South. As North Korea always stated, its caution with the South has never been out of hostility to fellow Koreans, but due to the overwhelming presence of US military hardware in South Korea. Now that North Korea has achieved nuclear parity, this worry is clearly diminishing.
North Korea’s confidence in its ability to defend itself against US intimidation, Seoul’s revived Sunshine Policy towards the North, Russia’s good relations with both Korean states, combined with Russia’s realistic attitude towards East Asian matters, has resulted in Seoul and Pyongyang agreeing to march under a single ‘unity flag’ at the forthcoming Olympic Games in PyeongChang.
Although symbolic, the united Olympic front may lead to further economic cooperation between the two states in line with Putin’s proposals from September of 2017.
Far from welcoming détente in Korea, the US and its allies have held a Dr. Strangelove style conference in Canada on the subject of North Korea. The eerily Hollywood style summit has been condemned by China as a Cold War relic with no legal relevance. According to Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang,
“It is the 21st century, and everyone is concerned about and working towards properly and peacefully resolving the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue. But some parties dusted off the Cold War term of ‘UN Command’ and convened a meeting where major parties to the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue are not represented”.
China, like Russia, is genuinely interested in peace on the Korean peninsula. The Olympic agreement between Seoul and Pyongyang makes it clear that the leadership of each Korean state also desires peace. By contrast, the US is interested in one of two things. Ideally, the US would like to force ‘regime change’ in Pyongyang, in the hopes of creating a western backed regime that would not only be on Russia and China’s borders but whose existence could make life difficult for Seoul, assuming that South Korea were to reunite with a North whose economy is based on principles antithetical to that of the South. Thus, if regime change were to occur in Pyongyang, it would turn the Korean peninsula into an economic basket case whose value to One Belt—One Road would be reduced for the foreseeable future. At the same time, this would allow the US to move its weapons that much closer to the border with China and Russia, under the guise of whatever outlandish excuse the State Department decides to cook up.
This scenario is considered desirable by many in the US, but it is also seen as unrealistic. The second option for the US and the one it appears to be pursuing at present, involves using the UN as well as unilateral sanctions to punish North Korea in spite of taking clear steps to ease tensions in the region. In doing so, the US hopes to perpetuate conflict between the two Korean states, thus allowing further THAAD missiles to pour into the South while selling more and more overpriced weapons to a wealthy and overly paranoid Japan.
In reality, the events of the last two weeks have vindicated those who have maintained the position that far from being a threat to world peace, North Korea is acting as any country under threat would act. Despite this reality, the fact that Pyongyang has initiated contact with the South for the sake of peace, is a clear sign that Russian diplomacy, combined with the Sino-Russian ‘double-freeze’ peace proposals have been a more substantial motivating factor for events on the Korean peninsula, vis-à-vis the constant threats from the US.
The US wants to sow conflict and discord on all sides of One Belt—One Road. The Korean peninsula’s long history as a battle ground between the US and the major Communist powers is simply a familiar place from which the US can continue to sow further discord. The only way out is for China and Russia to diplomatically repudiate the US role in the region. It is clear that the US is the only major stumbling block towards peace on the Koran peninsula and East Asia more widely, no matter how perversely fashionable it has become to blame North Korea for all of the region’s woes.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has already challenged whether the US actual wants peace in Korea. It is also time for the wider world to concede that the US demands of an immediate abandonment of nuclear weapons on the part of North Korea is both unrealistic and counterproductive. As it turns out, the confidence North Korea has found due to the advanced stage of development in her nuclear programme, has not created more tension, but has been the proximate cause of North Korea extending an open door to the South, just as DPRK officials have always stated.
It is time for Russia and China to voice this fact in unison and in doing so, give both Korean states the confidence needed to make peace on their own terms—terms which as the Olympic agreement demonstrates, are far more reasonable than anything suggested by Washington.
Everything I wrote then has now been confirmed by Trump’s quote. It is as if the United States has been oblivious to the fact that DPRK delegation which included Kim Jong-un’s sister, shook hands and held highly productive meetings with South Korean President Moon and other officials during the Olympics. Shortly thereafter, Kim Jong-un’s government praised South Korean hospitality while calling for further cooperative endeavours in the future, all the while Kim Jong-un’s sister invited President Moon to Pyongyang in the form of a handwritten note from her brother.
But in reality, the US is not oblivious – quite the contrary, Washington is all too aware of what is happening. If North and South Korea formally ended the Korean war which is technically an unresolved conflict, this could pave the way for the implementation of President Putin’s tripartite economic cooperation initiative between the two Korean states and Russia. Furthermore, considering China’s increasingly war economic relations with Seoul and South Korea’s increasing frustration with anti-South Korean protectionist legislation in Washington – a full rapprochement between the two Koreas could also lead to both states being integrated into China’s One Belt–One Road global trade initiative.
This would mean that a micro-region split between a pro-US South and an anti-US North could be harmoniously integrated into a wider Sino-Russian economic space, all the while the breakout of peace would mean fewer Asian markets for overpriced US weapons and the end of the American justification for a continued military presence in and around Korea.
For a country like the United States whose principle export is war and the machinery with which to fight those wars, this is a more dreaded prospect than the outbreak of peace. If Trump actually means what he says and there is still a very strong possibility that he does not – it would mean that the US is prepared to ignite a hellish war in a region that at this very moment stands on the verge of the closest thing to a proper peace than at any time since prior to 1950.