South Korea’s voters may vote peace

Geopolitical Notes From India

M D Nalapat

SOUTH Korea (or the Republic of Korea RoK) is a country that has demonstrated the resilience of the Korean people. They have a tradition stretching back for millennia, but much of the century just past has been painful for the people. The Korean War converted an already impoverished country into a wasteland, and divided it across the 38th parallel into the RoK and the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DPRK) that since its inception in 1945 has been ruled by the Kim family. The present ruler of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, is the grandsom of the founder, Kim Il Sung, upon whose death his son Kim Jong Il took charge. Following his passing away in 2011,the leadership of the DPRK went to his son Kim Jong Un.
Interestingly, the current leader seems to be a family man who is devoted to wife Ri Sol Ju, unlike his father and grandfather, who had several partners and multiple children. The Kim family has been successful in retaining power in North Korea, and on both occasions, the succession has been a smooth affair, despite the large number of children of the two elder Kims, who in other circumstances may have been expected to have each tried to take over the small state, whose institutions are built around its military. This is hardly a surprise, as technically the Korean War is not yet over, and the world’s biggest and second-biggest power are the main protagonists on either side. The Korean peninsula has remained a point of difference between the two global giants, United States and China.In particular, Beijing has adopted a policy of assisting North Korea to defend itself and even to feed itself since 1949, even while South Korea has become an important trading partner of the Peoples Republic of China (PRC).
There was a “Sunshine Policy” followed by two RoK Presidents, but the “sunshine” was more in the form of twilight, it was so weak in intensity. Small wonder that its success was limited. South Korea needs to keep a “big stick” handy should peace fail, but to give the peace of reconciliation followed by unification a chance, the “carrots” on offer need to be similarly large. Only such a magnitude would tempt Kim Jong Un to embrace a peaceful settlement of the Korea question. A “Bright Sunshine” policy has the potential to change North Korea for the better. Had the quarantine imposed by the US and its European allies (and enforced on South Korea) been replaced by a policy of investment and visits to the DPRK, there is little doubt that the situation in that impoverished country would have evolved in a way much more respectful of human rights and lifestyles.
Whether in Cuba, Myanmar or North Korea, the reflexive adoption of a “Touch Me Not” policy towards them by the member states of NATO has resulted in a stunting of social development as well as in lower economic growth. Those who speak (albeit in much less strident tones these days) about a global society ought to themselves set an example by not resorting to measures that leave the powers and privileges of the elite in sanctioned countries unaffected while severely impacting the economic conditions of the poor. Among the cruellest of sanctions were those imposed on Iraq after Saddam Hussein was sent packing from Kuwait in early 1991,after unwisely invading that small but significant country, which is to the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) what Singapore is to ASEAN. Because of these punitive measures, hundreds of thousands of children sickened and perished for lack of medicine in a country that till the sanctions were imposed had a well-functioning medical welfare net covering the entire population.
It is a commentary on the way in which the 1991 conflict and the post- 2003 occupation of Iraq by the US and the UK was managed that the standard of living of the ordinary people of Iraq has yet to reach the levels of the 1980s. Of course, members of the NATO military alliance consider themselves immune from accountability towards the rest of the international community, so the deaths and suffering caused as a consequence of Iraq sanctions have not resulted in any international tribunal holding to account individuals such as Madeleine Albright who were responsible for the extreme severity of the sanctions regime, just as they too have escaped formal censure who were dismissive of the truth while claiming that Saddam Hussein had WMD when he repeatedly pleaded that he did not. Indeed, the myth created afterwards was that Hussein “pretended to have WMD”.
This is a falsehood on the same scale as others about the dictator, such as that he was an associate of Al Qaeda, when in fact that group of terrorists worked ceaselessly for his extinction. In the case of North Korea, the isolation of that country is not just because of its own rulers but because of the policy of quarantine imposed by NATO, and which was followed by the dismissed President of South Korea, Park Geun-hye. Her policy of blacking out any “sunlight” (through contact and sweeteners) where policy towards the DPRK (North Korea) was concerned proved worse than useless in making North Korea (DPRK) roll back its nuclear and missile program. However, the front-runner for the May 9 Presidential elections in South Korea (RoK), Moon Jae-in, favours a “bright sunshine” policy towards North Korea. Of course, he needs to remember that such a “big carrot” policy will have a chance of success only if accompanied by a “big stick”. Such a desideratum implies that THAAD ( the US-supplied anti-missile system) is essential for South Korea’s security.
Should Moon (once he becomes President of the RoK) scrap the deployment of THAAD, and if there is a war later between the two Cold War-separated parts of Korea and citizens perish because of the absence of an effective anti-missile system, those deaths will have been caused by Moon Jae-in’s decision to abandon THAAD deployment. In candidate Moon, South Korea’s voters have a Presidential candidate who promotes a policy of peace. However, this would be a false peace, a temporary peace, unless South Korea and its military allies ensure that they build up the military means to ensure their security (and indeed victory) in a future conflict that would come about should the “Bright Sunshine” policy fail to persuade Pyongyang to reach a permanent accommodation with Seoul in a manner that unites the Korean people.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.
Email: mgnalapat@gmail.com