Symposium INDEX

Japan Peace Conference 2009
International Symposium


Lee Junkyu

Lecturer, Laborers’ Academy for Alternative Society


Challenges for 2010

-A South Korean Perspective –

My name is Lee Junkyu from South Korea. Thank you for inviting me to this Japan Peace Conference.

What I want to tell you today is about the so-called “North Korean Nuclear Issue” and the alliance between South Korea and U.S. and the alliance between Japan and U.S. The former is represented by U.S. forces in South Korea and the latter by the U.S. forces in Japan. These two alliances may seem to be two separate problems if you look at them in certain way, but in my view, these two issues are closely linked to each other.

As the representatives of North Korea and the U.S. are going to meet, there is a growing expectation that it will create a breakthrough in the stalemate over the Korean Peninsula. It can be said that the “North Korean Nuclear Issue” is now at a turning point.

There have been many twists and turns until today. The response of the Japanese government of Aso and the South Korean government of Lee Myung-bak to the North Korean satellite testing conducted on April 5 this year led eventually to a declaration of the U.N. Security Council Chairman condemning North Korea, to which North Korea responded by conducting nuclear testing in May for the second time. In addition, since its inauguration, the new Lee government has tried to precede to an overall revision the policies of the previous government, putting the North-South relationship on the Korean Peninsula in a deadlock. In this context, people place hope in the serious dialogue between North Korea and the U.S. that commenced around summer this year.

However, it is an undeniable reality that the prospect for the settlement of the “North Korean Nuclear Issue” remains as opaque and uncertain as before. It remains to be seen whether the direct dialogue engaged between North Korea and the U.S. will produce any tangible result and whether it will facilitate the resumption of multilateral consultations including the Six Party Talks which would in turn set the process of solving the North Korean Issue again in motion.

There are voices questioning whether North Korea is serious about abandoning its nuclear programs. I was asked similar questions quite often when I was staying in Japan for a year since last summer for field research. I think that it is a wrong way to look at the question. I believe that what we must ask ourselves at this moment instead is “ what we should do to make North Korea give up its nuclear program”.

In addition, posing the question “does North Korea really intend to renounce its nuclear weapons” may well lead to a preconception or a prejudice about a country like the DPRK. Preconception and prejudice will narrow the options for the policy to be implemented towards North Korea and it would thus make the solution more difficult.  Moreover, they would have negative effect for the establishment of a peaceful order in East Asia.

I would like to take up, as example of this, the question of Kim Jong–Il’s successor in North Korea, which was one of the favorite topics for South-Korean, Japanese and U.S. media from last autumn till spring this year.  In fact, when the U.S. State Secretary Hilary Clinton toured in Asia in February this year, she referred to the question of successor which irritated North Korea. The New York Times commented that her statement “broke the diplomatic taboo”.

In March this year, South Korean and the U.S. armed forces conducted a joint military exercise. It was then pointed out that that exercise was actually for “operational plan 5029” that supposes an “emergency situation in North Korea” and the subsequent intervention of U.S. troops stationed in South Korea as well as South Korean troops and ROK-U.S. allied troops. It was natural that North Korea strongly reacted to such a military exercise. Walter Sharp, the commander of U.S. armed forces in South Korea, first in April and then in October, stressed the need for measures to cope with an emergency happening in North Korea.   I believe that this can explain partly if not completely why the U.S. accepted the hardliner policy or sanction against North Korea proposed by Japan and South Korea in the first half of this year. In my view, it can be described without exaggeration as “North Korean demise” theory or “Obama Model North Korean regime change” theory. 

A sudden change in or collapse of North Korea is something that South Korea would hate even to imagine. However if it happens, it is common sense to seek for a solution with peaceful means whatever the nature of the event is. With ROK and U.S. boasting their alliance to be 100% ready for any event that will occur, the imaginable future of East Asia seems to be chaotic for us. I cannot but wonder if the scenario with an emergency situation happening in North Korea followed by a military intervention by ROK-US joint troops, backed up by Japanese self-defense troops, or a “chaos in East Asia” that will lead to Chinese and Russian responses and interventions really corresponds to the “spirit of alliance” they used to stress.

It goes without saying that the current stage of the “North Korean Nuclear Issue” consists of creation of a breakthrough allowing the concerned parties to get out of the current stalemate to advance towards dialogue. If we look at the issue in a wider perspective, we will see that upheavals are taking place in East Asia and the world.  The advent of Obama Administration in the U.S. has important implications. It is also important that the new government of Hatoyama that replaced the successive LDP governments refers to the possibility of resuming dialogue with North Korea. This in turn means that if the current South Korean government does not change its policy towards North Korea, it will be isolated in the course of future developments or may even be treated as a nuisance. 

We can easily tell that while the situation on the Korean Peninsula over the North Korean Nuclear Issue swings between deadlock and progress, the phenomenon or measures or ideas that run counter to peace in Asia or to the establishment of a non-nuclear and peaceful world will gain strength. The first to gain strength is the logic “nuclear deterrence” and then the obsession for alliance that is underlying the nuclear deterrence logic. I used the word obsession, because I find it abnormal from political psychology perspective to rely heavily on alliance with other countries.

Nuclear deterrence supposes that a nuclear attack is inevitably responded with nuclear attack. For Japan and South Korea, nuclear deterrence is provided by the US nuclear umbrella and its extreme form is going nuclear. I say “extreme” but I find it rather natural for a country believing in nuclear deterrence logic to eventually conclude that it must have nuclear weapons to make deterrence most effective. 

In the two North Korean nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009, the governments of Japan and South Korea moved to make sure that the nuclear umbrella provided by the U.S. would work. South Korean Lee Myong-bak government is boasting itself that at the summit meeting with the U.S. held in June this year, it succeeded in including the “provision of nuclear umbrella – extended deterrence-“ in the joint declaration as the most significant outcome. We can see here the obsession of the government that underlies the nuclear deterrence logic. 

There is something more. The operational deployment of the missile defense and its acceleration are going on in the reality, sometimes on the pretext of “the North Korean threat” and sometimes on the pretext of “Chinese threat”. It is well known that protagonists of Japanese missile defense officially invoke the threat of North Korea going nuclear and increasing the number of missiles, but at the same time, they make often reference to the strengthening of nuclear capabilities as well as projection capabilities of China. In case of South Korea, it promotes a South Korean -type MD” despite its official policy of not taking part in the U.S.-led missile defense system.  Within the country, people wonder if it does not actually mean South Korea’s participation in the East Asia Missile Defense.

President Obama declared in September this year that the U.S. would drop the MD plan for Eastern Europe. As you know, the MD promoted by Bush administration scrapped the Anti-Balistic Missile Treaty and stopped the “START” process. Some warned that the plan of MD deployment in Eastern Europe would provoke Russian reaction and would initiate a new arms race between the U.S. and Russia. For all these reasons, Obama’s recent declaration must be welcomed.

However, this new wind has not yet reached East Asia. The MD continues to be promoted in the region, officially, for coping with North Korean nuclear weapons and missiles, but the result is the resurgence of Cold War confrontation between “U.S., Japan, South Korea versus China, Russia, North Korea”. The deployment of defense missile system whose efficiency is questioned is throwing the foundation for a new arms race in the region. Moreover, the U.S.-led MD deployment, whatever the form it takes, once it is completed, is likely to induce negative reaction from China that is the strengthening of its nuclear projection capabilities. Such a scenario is contrary to our desire for “a world without nuclear weapons” and we must call into question those who are trying to make this scenario a reality while praising the alliance and the spirit of alliance.

At the beginning of my talk, I said that the North Korean Nuclear Issue has come to a turning point. However, a deeper consideration makes us realize that it is actually a turning point for the entire East Asia. Seen from South Korean perspective, the North Korean Nuclear Issue has never been the question of North Korea alone but a Korean question in East Asia.

We learned lessons from our 20-year movement on North Korean nuclear issue: A hope of resolution was opened only when this issue was linked with building up a peace framework of the Korean Peninsula and East Asia and North Korea attended negotiations seriously. Conversely, a prospect for the resolution got gloomy when the “acquisition of nuclear weapons” was separated from the “North Korean nuclear issue” and the strengthening of security of each country was prioritized than cooperation of those parties concerned.

From the strategic viewpoint, now is the third turning point in East Asia. As conclusion, I want to propose concrete tasks to tackle in this turning point.

First is to promote negotiations on peace agreement without delay.  The provision 4 of the September 19 Joint Statement, agreed in 2005, states that those parties concerned discuss a permanent peace setup in the Korean Peninsula in an appropriate place.  But the negotiations have not yet started. Since this year, North Korea has demanded the resolution of military issues with the US.  I believe that the peace agreement will help develop multinational negotiations such as six-party ones for the resolution of North Korean nuclear issue.

Second, together with the peace agreement, we need to proceed normalization of relations between North Korea and the US and North Korea and Japan. South Korea, Japan and the US have fear that if they agree with those talks, they may be caught in a trap of North Korea. However, the peace agreement and the normalization are the tasks we cannot get around not only for the resolution of North Korean nuclear issue but for peace of the Korean Peninsula and East Asia.

In particular, Japan is responsible for Korean Question. Japan has a duty to answer the Question that arises from the history of colonization, division, war and confrontation of the Korean Peninsula. The normalization of relations between North Korea and Japan will be one answer. Next year marks the centenary of Japan’s annexation of South Korea. I hope that Japan will not miss the chance to contribute to peace of the Peninsula.

Third, Japan should break away from military alliance. I already spoke about “nuclear umbrella” and “missile defense”.  As is made clear, the decline of US hegemony has caused an increase of burdens on its allies. It is clear that safety of allies cannot be ensured by the US. It is a “myth”.  Ongoing realignment of US forces stationed in South Korea and Japan clearly shows that it is true. Actually, allies have been dragged into US wars such as Iraqi War and Afghan War. Those bases maintained at the sacrifice of local people are getting to be threat to the people’s right to live in peace in South Korea and Japan.

In addition, “obsession with alliance ”, a political state of mind, is permeating not only into the diplomacy and security elites and politicians but also ordinary citizens in their daily life. As a result, general public in South Korea and Japan now accepts the reality of bilateralism created by ROK-US alliance and the Japan-US Alliance without being aware of the danger of military tension and war it generates. Rather, they think that getting out of the security umbrella provided by the US would increase future uncertainties.   

What is essential is that South Korean and Japanese citizens, and more generally citizens of East Asia, share the lessons of history and mobilize their imagination to use more efficiently the existing space of possibilities. The first step in this direction is to free our minds from the alliance policy logic and in this process create and share a “multinational and multilateral” vision that will enable us to achieve “common security and peace”.