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The continuing Korean war and IPPNW

December 1, 2010

To understand what is going on in Korea it is helpful to try to see the conflict from the other side, from that of North Korea.

There is no peace agreement after the Korean War, which ended in 1953 with an armistice agreement. There is still a state of war between the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, DPRK, and the USA. The Armistice Demarcation Line is the 38th parallel. However, no agreement has been reached regarding where that line continues in the sea. The sovereignty of the waters where the recent shelling occurred is disputed.

As I write this article, on Nov. 30, 2010, marine forces from South Korea together with US units are running a military maneuver in these disputed waters. Such operations have in the past often been opposed by the North. When shots were fired from the South as a part of that exercise, the North demanded that the fire should stop and when the shooting continued the North started to shell the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong.

A reaction from DPRK was to be expected but it was not expected that North Korea should shell an island with civilian inhabitants. It is entirely possible that internal rivalry in DPRK played a role. The newly designated heir to the dictator may have wanted to show that he is now in command. Speculations by Pyongyangologists abound.

The question which is not asked from our side is: What was the purpose to hold a provocative military exercise in this disputed area? No explanation has been offered from ROK, (Republic of Korea, South Korea) or the USA.

We understand little of the political situation in DPRK. Our ignorance should increase our caution. It should be kept in mind that military leaders in that country are even more ignorant of the world around them. Diplomats from DPRK are worried that the generals believe that they can win a war with the South and even successfully attack US bases in Japan.

A war with the South or a civil war inside DPRK would be a disaster for both North Korea and its neighbors. A rebellion by the starving and oppressed population would result in millions of refugees and serious problems for ROK and China

The recent report from Amnesty International tells a story of rapidly deteriorating health in DPRK. Food supply is irregular. Corruption is increasing. The health care is deteriorating, medicines are not available. Apartments and houses are cold in wintertime, because of the lack of oil and coal. The old and the children in the many institutions for child care are in danger of succumbing from deprivation and cold.

We in IPPNW should in the present situation demand from DPRK that the policy of “Military first” is changed to “Human security first”. From ROK and USA we ask:

Provocations against the DPRK should be avoided;
Humanitarian and especially medical help and food should be offered, disregarding the actions of the DPRK leadership;
Peace negotiations should begin, now almost sixty years after the war.

Regarding this last point I would like to quote from the article in the Washington Post published on Nov. 23rd by the former president Jimmy Carter, who has made several visits to DPRK:

Pyongyang has sent a consistent message that during direct talks with the United States, it is ready to conclude an agreement to end its nuclear programs, put them all under IAEA inspection and conclude a permanent peace treaty to replace the “temporary” cease-fire of 1953. We should consider responding to this offer. The unfortunate alternative is for North Koreans to take whatever actions they consider necessary to defend themselves from what they claim to fear most: a military attack supported by the United States, along with efforts to change the political regime.”

Should not peace talks between the USA and DPRK be tried, instead of provocative military maneuvers?

P.S. The day after I wrote this I learnt that South Korea had intended to refrain from military activities in the disputed waters for the time being. We should be grateful.

One Comment
  1. Agyeno Ehase permalink
    December 4, 2010 1:18 am

    Very instructive piece Gunnar. I’m no specialist. While i totally agree that military leaders usually know little about the world around them? They are in addition, i believe, full of schadenfreude at times: the misery they inflict on civilians brings attention them. With the possible internal division in DPRK, the priority should be to agree on a sea border; other details as suggested by Jimmy Carter can be sorted out later. Dictators should be left no excuse to be nasty or they will.

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