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2017-10-12 17:43
By Ku Yae-rin



If Donald Trump’s objective was to bring the United States to the limelight in dealing with North Korea, then he has certainly achieved his goal. The former administrations of Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye refused to engage with North Korea, instead adopting hardline policies, which merely served to deepen the sentiment of distrust and heightened tension on the Korean peninsula. Only after almost a decade, the Gaesung Industrial Complex already shut down, along with other cultural interactions between the North and South. By going along with Barack Obama’s strategic patience, rather than initiating a strategy of our own, South Korea has lost its stake on the matter. Recently, for instance, missile provocations were aimed at Japan and H-bomb threats were made against the United States. Even the minister of unification admitted the probability of “Korea passing” once the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) achieves its intercontinental ballistic missile objectives.

It is high time we face the reality: South Korea is only the tip of an iceberg, not just for the major powers, but also for North Korea now. A growing number of people are endorsing the idea of a nuclear arms race based on the misguided preconception that South Korea is still a primary concern for Kim Jong-un. Even if South Korea somehow miraculously obtains nukes, it is highly probable based on realpolitik and numerous treaties that the United States would be the one behind the wheel. In response, China and Russia would strongly object and use this situation as an excuse to back out on the sanctions imposed on the DPRK. Japan, an inevitably priority ally of the United States, would be displeased by the prospect, so mulling over the possibility of nuclear arms race is a waste of time.

Obama refused to resume diplomatic talks with North Korea if denuclearization was not on the agenda, and the government of the Republic of Korea (ROK), despite representing its citizens rather than Americans, followed the U.S. policy and has never tried alternative tactics for engaging with the DPRK leader. By now it is likely that Kim understands the implications of regime changes in democratic countries like the United States and South Korea: power transitions can result in totally different policies. But as can be witnessed from President Moon Jae-in’s decision to go forward with the THAAD deployment, one thing remains the same: the United States has leverage over South Korea militarily and economically to say the least.

From this situation, one can infer that South Korea needs a grand strategy that establishes guidelines or a unilateral direction for policies on North Korea. The Ministry of Unification needs to be more proactive rather than simply gleaning data and hosting unification promotion events. First, it needs to show its vision for the future of South Korea clearly; but with the grave politicization of the issue at hand, however, the ministry has not been able to take this initial step. But more importantly, the greatest irony of the supposedly South Korean conservatives demanding the DPRK to denuclearize when U.S. Forces Korea remains on the peninsula ought to be resolved. Only when the U.S.-ROK joint military exercises gradually decreases will the DPRK cease its missile provocations and South Korea can call for gradual denuclearization.



Ku Yae-rin is a student at Kyung Hee University majoring in international relations. Write to realyepuda@hotmail.com.

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