Inflammatory and undiplomatic remarks from the US and particularly those from Nikki Haley and John Bolton have already caused the DPRK (North Korea) to withdraw from talks with the South which were scheduled for the 16th of May, while Pyongyang has also threatened to withdraw from the 12 June summit in Singapore where Kim Jong-un is still scheduled to participate in the first ever meeting between a DPRK head of state and a sitting US President. Furthermore, the DPRK has made it clear that the continuation of the joint Washington-Seoul “Max Thunder” military drills on Korean soil are a direct provocation and contrary to the letter and spirit of the current peace process.
While South Korea has not broken rank with the US over the stance of the DPRK, today Seoul released a statement which indicates that Moon Jae-in’s administration is all too aware of the dangers that the reckless attitude of US officials like John Bolton pose to an otherwise Asian authored, owned and executed peace process.
An official from President Moon’s administration today confirmed that South Korea intends to more intensely perform “the role of a mediator” between Washington and Pyongyang. When one strips off the diplomatic language of the statement, it becomes clear that South Korea is as desperate for the US to tone down its aggressive posture as the DPRK is furious about the hegemonic, unilateral and un-Asian approach that certain US officials have taken regarding the peace process.
While the DPRK also criticised the South’s government for being “incompetent” and chastised Seoul for allowing “human scum” (thought to be the DPRK traitor Thae Yong Ho) to speak at the South Korean National Assembly, Seoul has responded by placing itself as a mediator between Washington and Pyongyang, rather than by responding with vigour to harsh North Korean statements which given the fragile context of the peace process can be viewed as objectively justified. At this point in time, South Korea should not be hosting US military drills any more than it should be giving a prominent public space to a DPRK born traitor, even if the man in question is long past his relevance to anyone.
Ultimately, Moon Jae-in has demonstrated that his soft tone, sympathetic attitude and constructive position in the peace process is at odds with the aggressive rhetoric of Washington which seeks to turn the otherwise Asian authored, owned and executed process into a chance for US ultra-nationalists to humiliate the DPRK and leave it vulnerable to the kinds of aggression the US committed against Yugoslavia, Iraq and Libya.
In order for the peace process to work, Seoul will need to actively distance itself from its traditional US ally and in doing so, encourage the “cost-cutting” factions in Washington as best represented by Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis and Donald Trump to win out over the neo-con hawks who are best represented by National Security Adviser John Bolton and US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley. In so doing, South Korea could in an ideal situation, convince the US to lessen its own economic burden that is implicit in maintaining a large presence of troops and weapons in South Korea. Until South Korea is made pacific in terms of US arms and soldiers, the DPRK’s necessary security concerns may not be met and if this is the case, the goal of de-nuclarisation that China and Russia support could reach a critical impasse. Ultimately, the US would save money in helping South Korea to develop an independent military-industrial complex that is less reliant on the US and less reliant on massive arms which would become far less necessary were peace to be formalised across Korea. This win-win situation was hinted at by both Donald Trump and James Mattis but it clearly goes against the war mongering tendencies of Haley and Bolton.
In offering to mediate between the DPRK and US, South Korea has made it clear that while the US may not yet be mature enough to speak respectfully to a country it still considers to be an adversary, that South Korea is capable of holding mature discussions with the North as was evidenced by Kim Jong-un’s successful meeting with Moon Jae-in.
This means that the burden of responsibility for a successful peace process is now largely on Seoul’s shoulders. It is a responsibility South Korea did not need or ask for, but one which ultimately, only South Korea is in a position to fulfil.