President Park Geun-hye of South Korea met this week in The Hague at a landmark meeting hosted by U.S. President Barack Obama. The meeting included Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and brought together world leaders to discuss denuclearizing North Korea and reunifying the North and the South. As an outcome of the meeting, President Park proposed to North Korea to provide aid in exchange for the North to lay down its nuclear arms.
Since 1994 the United States and the international community have worked to negotiate with North Korea to encourage them to halt their nuclear testing and missile development programs, as well as their export of missile technology. The result has been iffy progress, stalemate, and mounting crises. North Korea remains a critical global challenge in the reduction of nuclear proliferation.
South Korea’s latest offer is a bid towards reunification and assisting in lifting North Korea out of its economic difficulties. In addition to economic woes, North Korea also suffers from a weak social infrastructure and agriculture. The economy of the North is about 0.03 percent that of South Korea. The South is an industrial powerhouse; the North has difficulty feeding its people.
The proposed plan for aid would include South Korea helping the North to become connected to the international financial system, where the South would serve as a liaison and assist with exchanges. Huge economic stimuli would be provided by South Korea. In exchange, the South would need commitment that North Korea is on the road to arms denuclearization.
The U.S. has for 20 years tried a number of policies to get North Korea to stop nuclear proliferation. These efforts have included military cooperation, sanctions, and export controls. In addition, the U.S. has tried two diplomatic initiatives in which the U.S. would give aid in exchange for North Korea abandoning its nuclear weapons program. These have all been unfulfilled.
In the first agreement in 1994, the U.S. and North Korea signed a nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). North Korea agreed to freeze its illicit plutonium weapons program to receive economic aid. This agreement collapsed in 2002. In January 2003, the North reopened operation of its nuclear facilities, saying that it had withdrawn from the NPT.
Other efforts included China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea, and the U.S. (August 2003) and 2005, where the North agreed to abandon “all existing nuclear programs and weapons” and participate again in the NPT. In 2007, all the parties agreed on the steps towards implementing the 2005 accord. Talks broke down, however, in 2009 over disagreements as to whether a North Korea rocket launch had taken place. Such a launch was internationally condemned. Following that, leadership of the North’s capital, Pyongyang, tore up the 2005 agreement and declared that they were no longer bound by its contents and would not return to negotiate. The other five parties continue to be committed to discussion and have urged the North’s recommitment to its 2005 denuclearization pledge.
The older history of North and South Korea is the division during World War II, with the North as Communist and the South occupied by the U.S. In 1950, the North crossed the border, under Kim Il-sung, and invaded South Korea, using Soviet tanks. The U.S. came to aid South Korea as part of a strategy during the Cold War (1945-1963) because U.S. policymakers “did not want to appear soft on Communism.” Initially, the U.S. provided “police action” that was organized by the U.N. international peace-keeping force.
The war escalated under the commandership of General Douglas MacArthur, who had been in charge of post-WWII occupation of Japan. He led the U.S. to crush the North Korean army and to recapture Seoul, the capital of South Korea. He then pursued the North Korean army to their northernmost provinces. The People’s Republic of China responded due to fear of the U.S. using North Korea as a military base against Manchuria, and sent their army to combat the U.S. as part of a secret mission. In 1953 a peace treaty was signed, ending the Korean War. North and South Korea were returned to their divided status that was, in essence, the same as before the Korean War. Tensions remained throughout the Cold War.
On March 27, 2014, the North Korean leader Kim Jung-un derided South Korean President Park Geun-hye after her speech in The Hague on the dangers of nuclear development. Kim Jung-un warned President Park that, while denuclearization of the entire Korean peninsula “might” be a possibility, it would not take place unilaterally in the North. Kim’s words, as often, were piercing: “She’d better not even dream about it.”
The expressed concern and accusation of the North is that the U.S. is maintaining nuclear weapons in the South and will use them to invade the North. President Obama’s administration denies this possibility. Meanwhile, nuclear tests and missile launches in 2006 led to U.N. Security Council resolutions that ban arms trade for North Korea and cut off connection to the international finance system.
Following talks this week by President Park of South Korea, that were hosted by U.S. President Obama, the North issued arms as a means of provocation. The U.N. Security Council condemned the missile launches as they violated prior resolutions. And, on March 28, 2014 the South made a proposal to offer aid in exchange for the North dropping its nuclearization program. President Park spoke about her hope for reunification of the North and the South. Time will tell if the North is hungry enough to relinquish its arms. So far, there is no sign of that happening any time soon.
By Fern Remedi-Brown