Today is turning into “Shit is Fucked Up and Bullshit” day, which isn’t intentional but, you know, there are a lot of problems out there. The next rough spot is on the Korean Peninsula, where things keep getting tenser and tenser. North Korea tested The (Probably Not an) H-Bomb of Justice in early January, then sent a satellite into orbit earlier this month. While North Korea presumably has as much right to a space program as anybody else, their “rocket launches” are generally more about testing missile technology than about the wonders of scientific discovery. So South Korea retaliated, by closing the joint North-South manufacturing complex in the border city of Kaesong. John Feffer, my editor at LobeLog and the director of Foreign Policy in Focus for the Institute of Policy Studies, wrote about the implications of that move, and the South’s choice of confrontation over conciliation, last week:
But it’s the suspension of Kaesong that remains most troubling. The project represented the only real example of Korean reunification avant la lettre: a model for how the two very different countries could gradually work together toward common goals. Kaesong had survived for more than a decade despite North Korea’s nuclear tests and South Korea’s shift to the right. It symbolized the triumph of pragmatism over propaganda.
Park Geun-Hye has abandoned all her earlier talk of a “trustpolitik” policy of engaging the North. “We now need to find a fundamental solution to effectively change North Korea, and it is our time to be brave,” she said this week. Those sound a lot like fighting words.
At a formal level, Kaesong was a constant symbol of North-South interaction. At an informal level, it was a place where Koreans from both countries could interact, even if those interactions were carefully managed by North Korean authorities. And apart from what it means for North-South relations, the jobs at Kaesong were some of the best available to anybody in North Korea, even after Pyongyang confiscated most of the pay those workers received. Now it’s nothing but an empty industrial complex, and Pyongyang is firing artillery in the direction of South Korean islands and making its annual threats about annual US-South Korea joint military exercises. Business as usual, except one of the few things that brought the two Koreas together is now gone.
John questions whether further isolating North Korea can possibly pay any dividends:
I’m not happy that North Korea has a nuclear weapons program. And believe me, China isn’t happy either. But registering our opposition to the program will not magically eliminate the North’s nukes. Nor will additional sanctions convince the leadership in Pyongyang to change their minds, any more than the economic embargo against Cuba transformed the system there. North Korea is convinced that the outside world wants to destroy it — which is not mere paranoia — and a nuclear weapon is its only security blanket.
The cynical will say that the international community has tried both isolation and engagement, and neither has worked. But that’s not really true. The international community has put its body and soul behind isolation and has been, at best, half-hearted about engagement. If only to make the obligatory nod toward non-proliferation, politicians condemned North Korea for its nuclear tests and missile launches.
Yesterday it was reported that Pyongyang actually reached out to the US last fall about negotiating an actual treaty to formally end the Korean War, but Washington insisted that denuclearization had to be part of the talks, and Pyongyang refused. I can understand the rationale for arguing that the DPRK’s nuclear program should be part of the negotiations, but I think this was another failure to attempt genuine diplomatic engagement. There’s no real reason why a formal Korean peace treaty couldn’t be negotiated separately from the nuclear issue as a confidence-building effort, is there? Drawing Pyongyang out diplomatically is probably the only way the nuclear issue will ever be addressed peacefully, so why not grab the chance to do so? Why continue a policy of isolation that has, by practically every measure, failed to achieve anything positive? Why not try another way?
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