Americans are instructed that North Korea is an aggressor that violates international agreements and doesn’t negotiate. Until North Korea denuclearizes, we are told, the U.S. must continue rejecting its peace proposals.
After all, North Korea withdrew in 2003 from the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). Its subsequent nuclear and missile testing violate the 1953 Korean War armistice agreement and 1994 Agreed Framework, by which North Korea agreed to end its nuclear weapons program.
It all sounds so principled and practical until you realize we’re getting only half the story. And if you paint a one-sided story, you’ll never get a two-sided solution.
Let’s talk about violations. Paragraph 13d of the armistice prohibits introducing new types of weaponry into the Korean peninsula.
By 1958, the U.S. had begun violating the agreement by rolling in Honest John atomic rockets and atomic cannons into South Korea. Within a year, atomic demolition mines and nuclear-armed Matador cruise missiles were installed. U.S. helicopters routinely flew nuclear weapons near the DMZ. By the 1960s, the U.S. had deployed nearly 950 nuclear weapons to South Korea.
In wild violation of the armistice and the non-proliferation treaty, the U.S. made early use of nuclear weapons in future conflict the bedrock strategy against North Korea. Why? Because North Korea didn’t have nukes to fight back. And because it was cheaper to deploy nukes rather than troops.
How did U.S. nukes escape surveillance by the international inspection teams charged with enforcing weaponry limits laid out in the armistice?
When the U.N. Command couldn’t persuade North Korea to mutually abrogate paragraph 13d, President Dwight Eisenhower had the inspection teams evicted from the Koreas by cooking up evidence against them. Then, alleging that North Korea was violating paragraph 13d, the U.S.-dominated U.N. Command indicated it would no longer be bound by it — and in poured U.S. nukes.
North Korea condemned 13d’s abrogation as an attempt to destroy the armistice and turn South Korea into a U.S. nuclear warfare base.
U.S. policymakers don’t trust North Korea. But on what basis can North Korea trust the U.S.? What agreement with North Korea has the U.S. ever not violated?
In 1991 President George W. Bush withdrew nukes from South Korea because precision-guided conventional weapons became more useful. The U.S. nuclear umbrella remained, and the U.S. further trampled the armistice terms by supporting South Korea’s ballistic missiles, deploying Patriot missiles and installing an anti-missile defense system.
Whichever agreement is under discussion, the same behavior is seen: the U.S. never sees its own violations as wrong.
Those supporting the controversial U.S./South Korea Key Resolve nuclear war simulations insist that deterring a North Korean invasion requires U.S./South Korea forces to be able to rapidly destroy the North Korean military before it inflicts much damage. Yet such inequality in military strength provokes fear, not peace.
Step into North Korea’s shoes. Kim Jong Un maintains that a U.S./South Korea invasion can best be deterred if North Korea has a strong military capacity that can bite back. The U.S. has a history of invading and deposing leaders in militarily weaker nations, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Congo, Chile, Guatemala, etc. So what’s so crazy about North Korea trying to deter another U.S. invasion?
And how can North Korea be expected to disarm when there’s talk of toppling Kim and U.S./South Korea war games may be cover for an invasion? Yes, the Kim dynasty has behaved abominably towards North Koreans, but its cruelty doesn’t prove that North Korea’s grievances are unjustified. To what extent has North Korea’s fear of invasion or political assassination aggravated internal tensions?
A cooperative negotiated agreement must address not only U.S. grievances but North Korea’s needs for survival, sovereignty, a Korean War peace treaty, mutual nuclear disarmament, food, access to energy — including the 23-years-delayed light water reactors, economic development and diplomatic relations.
Any agreement to “open up North Korea” must ensure that North Koreans don’t become a cheap labor force for foreign profiteers, that North Korea’s natural resources aren’t appropriated by foreigners and that Korean identity and values are not upended by Western consumerism, individualism and hectic living.
South Korean grievances against North Korea and the U.S. should be addressed, including fear that South Korea’s government represents the U.S. government more than South Koreans, many of whom have protested U.S. military bases, South Korea’s troop deployment to Iraq, weapons systems and nuclear war simulations.
Lastly, the agreement must include training and monitoring of human rights, for North Korea’s government must treat its people with the kindness and truthfulness with which it would like to be treated by the world.
Experts know that cooperative negotiated agreements endure, not power-based negotiation in which one side forces a deal upon the other using “diplomatic” pressure, preconditions, and sanctions.
Consider the Cuban missile crisis. We’re taught to admire President Kennedy for his brinkmanship and nuclear war threat that allegedly cowed Soviet Premier Khrushchev into scuttling back home with his missiles. But actually, in a secret deal, Kennedy agreed to remove U.S. Jupiter missiles in Turkey and Italy in exchange for Soviet removal of missiles in Cuba. Plus, the U.S. promised not to invade Cuba.
It wasn’t the threat that worked. It was the reduction of both sides’ fears.
This article was first published in the Albany Times Union.
Arms Control Association, “Chronology of U.S.-North Korean Nuclear and Missile Diplomacy,” September 2017
Associated Press, The Guardian, “Obama rejects North Korea’s nuclear offer: ‘You’ll have to do better than that,’” April 24, 2016
Baker, Peter and David E. Sanger, The New York Times, “Trump Squelches Tillerson’s Plan on North Korea,” October 2, 2017
Bandow, Doug, Huffington Post, “North Korea Wants to Negotiate a Peace: U.S. Should Sit Down and Talk,” 2015
Bennett, Bruce W., Rand Corporation, “Why THAAD Is Needed in Korea,” August 7, 2017
Broder, Jonathan, Newsweek, “Dear Barack Obama, Kim Jong-un Wants to Talk,” March 31, 2016, pp. 3-4
Buckley, Chris and Somini Sengupta, The New York Times, “U.S. and South Korea Rebuff China’s Proposal to Defuse Korea Tensions,” March 8, 2017
Chang, Leo, Zoom in Korea, “US Hegemony on Korean Peninsula Challenged,” May 11, 2017
Choe, Sang-Hun, The New York Times, “South Korea Tests Missile Capable of Striking Any Part of the North,” June 23, 2017
Choe, Sang-Hun, The New York Times, “Kim Vows to Strengthen North Korean Arsenal,” October 9, 2017
Chossudovsky, Michel, Global Research, “Proposal for a Lasting Korea Peace Agreement: Signing of a Bilateral North-South Korea Peace Treaty,” September 5, 2017
Cook, Damen, The Diplomat, “What’s the Big Deal About These US-South Korea Military Exercises?”, March 23, 2017
Einarsen, John with Robert Kowalczyk, Kyoto Journal, “The Future of Korea: An Interview with Political Scientist Lee Jae Bong.”
Goodby, James E., Brookings, “North Korea: The Problem That Won’t Go Away,” May 1, 2003
Friedman, Uri, The Atlantic, “Can Trump Make a Deal with North Korea?,” August 17, 2017
Hayes, Peter, The Asia-Pacific Journal, “The Future of Conflict in the Korean Peninsula and Beyond: The War Dreams of Kim and Trump,” October 1, 2017
Jahanpour, Farhang, Inter Press Service, “Opinion: Nuclear States Do Not Comply with the Non-Proliferation Treaty,” September 5, 2015
Jennings, Ralph, Forbes, “North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un Is an Unlikely Figure for Peace Talks with South Korea,” July 20, 2017
LA Times, “Patriot Missiles Arrive in S. Korea,” April 19, 1994
Lee Jae-Bong, The Asia-Pacific Journal, “US Deployment of Nuclear Weapons in 1950s South Korea & North Korea’s Nuclear Development: Toward Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” Volume 7 Issue 8 Number 3, February 17, 2009. First published at The Society of World Peace and Unification, The Journal of Peace Studies, Vol. 9 No. 3, December 15, 2008.
Moon, Katharine H.S. and Andrew I. Yeo, The Diplomat, “Democratic Deficit and Missile Defense in South Korea,” August 4, 2016
Padden, Brian, VOA News, “Critics: North Korea Peace Proposal Worth Consideration,” April 26, 2016
Panda, Ankit, The Diplomat, “North Korean ‘Peace Proposal” Rejected by South Korea,” July 1, 2014
Panda, Ankit, The Diplomat, “US, South Korea Kick Off Annual Foal Eagle Exercise,” March 2, 2017
Park, Madison, CNN, “North Korea declares 1953 armistice invalid,” March 11, 2013
Pollman, Mina, The Diplomat, “Don’t Expect Too Much From Inter-Korean Diplomacy,” January 24, 2015
Rabson, Steve, The Asia-Pacific Journal, “On Okinawa, Locals Want US Troops to Leave,” October 1, 2017
Reuters Staff, Reuters, “U.S. rejected North Korea peace talks offer before last nuclear test: State Department,” February 21, 2016
Seungki, Yoo, Xinhuanet, “Spotlight: South Korean people, religious figures shout “THAAD Out, Peace In,” April 27, 2017
Taylor, Guy, The Washington Times, “South Korean Buddhist monks protest U.S. THAAD missile defense system near Seoul,” May 7, 2017
Tonko, Paul, Letter to Constituents re: North Korea, September 29, 2017
US Congress, H.R. 479: North Korea State Sponsor of Terrorism Designation Act of 2017
Zoom in Korea, “Stop the U.S. War Machine!” – Peace Activists Pledge to Fight Trump and Oppose War in Korea,” January 26, 2017
“Cuban Missile Crisis”
“Impact of the Korean War on the economy of the United States”
“Korean Armistice Agreement”
“List of equipment of the Republic of Korea Army”
“Missile Technology Control Regime”
“Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission”
“South Korea and weapons of mass destruction”
“South Korea Ballistic Missile Range Guidelines”
“Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons”
Wit, Joel, U.S.-Korea Institute at SAIS, “U.S. Strategy Towards North Korea: Rebuilding Dialogue and Engagement,” October 2009
Wilmouth, Brian, newsbusters.org, “Friedman: US Should Offer Peace Treaty, Full Relations to North Korea,” August 11, 2017
Sheila Miyoshi Jager, Brothers at War: The Unending Conflict in Korea, (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2013), pp. 278-80
Andrei Lankov, The Real North Korea: Life and Politics in the Failed Stalinist Utopic, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), pp. 5-6
Bruce Cummings, North Korea: Another Country, (New York: The New Press, 2004), pp. 108-20
Alison Behnke, Kim Jong Il’s North Korea, (Minneapolis: Lerner Publishing Group, 2008), pp. 21-5
Blaine Harden, The Great Leader and the Fighter Pilot, (New York: Penguin Group, 2013), pp. 20-23
Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, (New York: Spiegel, Grau, 2010)
Eunsun Kim with Sebastien Falletti, A Thousand Miles to Freedom: My Escape from North Korea, (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2016)
Elaine H. Kim and Eui-Young Yu, East to America: Korean American Life Stories, (New York: The New Press, 1996)