Crisis in the Korean Peninsula
Jamaica LANDS commits itself to struggle for the empowerment of oppressed classes and peoples. In our national context, socialism and anti-imperialism are central to this struggle. We at LANDS are proud of contributing to analysis of political currents in our country and region. Thus, we are excited to see the launch of the Tricontinental Institute of Social Research (TISR).
Taking up the task of the original tricontinental magazine, the Institute exists to facilitate discussion on movements in the Global South. Its staff and contributors also strive to connect activists to academics with relevant research and shared content creation. With an internationalist point of view, the TISR adds onto the work of OSPAAAL - he Organisation of Solidarity with the Peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin Americ. LANDS intends to learn from both old and new initiatives.
Dossier number 1 starts the TISR's global journey in Korea. "The Crisis in the Korean Peninsula" probes diplomatic efforts between the Republic of Korea, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the United States of America. Afterward, the piece connects modern events to the unfolding of the Korean War and considers the possibility of new conflict in the region. To celebrate the Institute's launch and spread awareness of its work, we reproduce an excerpt from the dossier. This section is called "Korea's Independence."
The following text, the entire dossier, and all of the Tricontinental Institute for Social Research’s work are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International license (CC BY-NC 4.0). The featured photo, "Arch of Reunification.jpg" is taken from the Wikimedia Commons. Its author is Kok Leng Yeo from Singapore, and it is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license (CC BY 2.).
Much of the Western debate on North Korea assumes that South Korea will comply with the mandates imposed by Washington. While South Korea is a US ally, it would also suffer the most if conflict were to unfold, which could lead to a much needed warming of ties between the two Koreas.
In the event of military conflict on the peninsula, a 2017 report published by the US Congressional Research Service, estimated that ‘Hundreds of thousands of South Koreans would die in the first few hours of combat – from artillery, from rockets, from short range missiles – and if this war would escalate to the nuclear level, then you are looking at tens of millions of casualties and the destruction of the eleventh largest economy in the world’. This should be a sufficient deterrent to war.
It is why a majority of South Koreans (58%) told Gallup last year – at the height of the tension – that there was ‘no possibility’ that North Korea would cause a war.
In August, South Korean President Moon issued a strong statement saying that the country will not sit quietly as tensions escalate between the US and North Korea. During his remarks, Moon asserted the right to veto any military action against North Korea, adding that the decision should be made by ‘ourselves and not by anyone else’. Moon’s concerns about national sovereignty are a consistent theme in South Korean politics partially due to opposition to the idea of a US-led military strike against North Korea.
‘The South Korean government, along with South Korean civil society and media’, Professor Kim told Tricontinental, is the most important actor in dealing with North Korea, no matter how loud the voices are coming from the US, China, Japan and Russia. This is the same for North Korea. While it must play the role of “little sibling” to China and Russia, it can always bypass them and talk to South Korea. This is happening now and, in my opinion, is the best way for progress. The two countries must start talking first before anything else’.
Nonetheless, Professor Kim says, there is always the possibility that the South Korean government would buckle to pressure from the United States. Liberal populist leaders – such as Kim Daejung, Roh Moohyun, and today’s Moon – are elected on a pro-people platform that includes redistribution policies to the South Korean population and peace overtures to the North Koreans. Once elected, however, these politicians often appease the United States on behalf of compliant South Korean corporations. The situation, Professor Kim says, is complex because these administrations ‘are able to deal with North Korea more independently, even while keeping their status quo with the US. This is why Moon Jae-in recently said that he is thankful that Trump made it possible for North Korea and South Korea to talk directly.’
A little flattery might sweeten the possibility for peace, although it will not be enough to hold back the immense appetite of the US government to squeeze North Korea as part of its agenda to encircle and diminish China’s role in Asia and the world.
China, which shares strong cultural and historical ties with North Korea (and the Korean Peninsula as a whole), places a justifiably high premium on North Korea’s political stability. The bilateral relationship between the two countries is very important both in terms of the larger regional dynamics and nuclear issue. But China’s delicate role in the Korean Peninsula has become part of the hostile Cold War-like dynamics between the United States and the country that it increasingly sees as its main adversary, China. If war against North Korea would weaken China, then there are people in the US government who would risk a war – however catastrophic.