K-Defense & Peace K-Defense & Peace To preserve stable relations with North Korea and avoid a costly war, South Korea balances calculated diplomacy with Pyongyang and a combat-ready military force. For South Korea, possessing a military force ready to “Fight Tonight” is a double edged sword: it deters military aggression from the North and yet stokes tensions between two divided nations. The bitter legacy of a once united Korea divided for over 70 years arguably began after the Korean War (육이오), which ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty. It ended in more than simply a permanent division of Korea that originated in the final days of WWII: the history of the North and South evolved in two separate directions. In the decades after the war, South Korea stabilized into a liberal democracy and transformed into an economic powerhouse boasting one of largest free market economies in Asia. Around the world, South Korea’s recognized for its innovation in tech, globalized entertainment industry, and most recently its successful management of the COVID-19 pandemic. North Korea degenerated into a totalitarian state controlled by an enduring, despotic regime under the Kim dynasty for over 70 years. It’s earned a global reputation as a militarized state with the world’s 4th largest conventional military force. Whenever North Korean’s in the news, it’s often because it’s tested a new ballistic missile warhead. The 67-year United-States and Republic of Korea (US-ROK) Alliance The ROK and the US signed the Mutual Defense Treaty in 1953 to officially establish an alliance symbolizing their commitment to deterring future aggressions from North Korea and maintaining stability in the region. 70 years after the Korean War the alliance endures today, but faces new challenges in the wake of evolving diplomacy with North Korea in response to shifting dynamics in the Pacific. Operational Readiness One of South Korea’s principal strategies for deterring an escalation of military aggressions to armed conflict by North Korea is operational readiness. US-ROK Forces work to maintain a watertight combat readiness posture by regularly engaging in joint military training exercises in which both merge their military capabilities and prepare to “Fight Tonight”. North Korea responds to these exercises in turn by testing and fielding its missiles. The Nuclear Umbrella Question South Korea doesn’t possess nuclear weapons, but instead leverages nuclear protection provided by the US to its allies, to deter a nuclear attack from North Korea. The reality; however, is that the terms authorizing the US to deploy nuclear weapons in case of a nuclear attack on its allies is ambiguous. Still, the US nuclear guarantee is a bargaining chip at the negotiation’s table with Pyongyang. Disagreement Over Sharing the Burden Some argue that the US-ROK alliance enabled South Korea’s economy to thrive virtually unabated by a massive national defense budget. Yet others point out a contentious issue: how much should South Korea pay to keep an American military presence in South Korea? It could also be argued that an American military presence in the region is as much as important to the US as it is to South Korea. The Art of Negotiating with Pyeongyang Gridlocked nuclear disarmament negotiations with Pyongyang have defined a history of empty agreements and ambiguous terms since the 1980’s. Despite repeated, stricter sanctions, North Korea refuses to ditch its nuclear program to guarantee its security against the US and preserve the political legitimacy of the Kim regime. It’s difficult to enforce sanctions against North Korea because of its intricate network of shadowy diplomatic ties. Nuclear Negotiations: Failures & Options Washington and Seoul have persuaded North Korea to participate in negotiations over dismantling its nuclear and missiles programs in the past, but without much progress as North Korea is still advancing its nuclear and missiles programs. The question now is if the world will simply have to accept North Korea as a nuclear state or weigh the costs of other, equally unsettling options. Seoul’s Stance on Pyeongyang Moon Jae-In has centered his administration’s diplomatic policies with North Korea on promoting peaceful inter-Korean relations. Last year, North Korea blew up the joint-liaison office in Kaesong, a hopeful symbol of peace but now a prelude to deterioration inter-Korean ties. From the Sunshine Policy to president Moon Jae-In’s North Korea diplomacy, the goal has always been peaceful stability, but the future of inter-Korean relations has always been unclear. Pyeongyang’s Bargaining Chips Rather than threaten the survival of the Kim regime, Pyeongyang persists in negotiation tactics that pressure Washington and Seoul to agree to its terms before negotiating nuclear disarmament. Pyeongyang recognizes that denuclearization is the primary interest of Seoul and Washington and to seize concessions it threatens regional instability with its nuclear program. It’s possible that the world will have to accept North Korea as a nuclear power. The Truth about the Reunification of Korea The world’s last Cold War divide, few agree that re-unification of Korea is a distant possibility: reunification brings complex challenges rooted in the polarities of Stalinistic totalitarian state and a modernized democratic society. Some worry that re-unification would result in an overwhelming financial burden to South Korea’s economy. Others acknowledge the enormous effort needed to unite Korea, but believe it is worthwhile and possible with time. North Korea’s Vision The Kim Jong-Un regime doesn’t support a South Korean led reunification program. Because of South Korea’s global political and economic ties, it suspects that Seoul will push policies that’ll undermine its agenda for re-unification without the involvement of the international community. Pyongyang espouses a jointly arranged unification program that doesn’t demand an all-or-nothing transition from its political system and cultural reality to that of South Korea’s. South Korea’s Vision Seoul envisions a unified Korea established on a liberal democracy and globalized market economy — a departure from the hyper nationalistic views of Pyeongyang — but accepts the need to balance its campaigns for peaceful co-existence and reconciliation with North Korea first before becoming a nation under one flag. Seoul’s reunification plans; however, aren’t as readily supported by South Korea’s younger generation compared to its older generation. Better Apart or Together? The only sensible option for the international community is an absorption of North Korea on South Korea’s terms. Yet if we recall Germany’s history of reunification, the consequences of reuniting Korea could arguably outweigh the benefits. Experts predict an absorption of North Korea’s majority poverty-crippled population and a destitute economy, which portends massive pressure on South Korea’s public resources and a potential spike in criminal activity. North Korean Defectors and the Future of the North Korea Regime Why are North Koreans defecting in increasing numbers? The simple answer: liberation from an oppressive government. More specifically, women who’ve left North Korea cited that one of the driving forces for defecting is poverty and economic hardship while men tended to cite repressive political ideology and political reasons. As more defectors, ordinary citizens and military officials, run for the border, oddly some choose to return to North Korea. Desertion Over DPRK Loyalty? The publicized photos of enthusiastically devoted North Korean soldiers marching in Kim Il-Sung square obscures a dark truth about North Korea’s military — internal corruption. A majority of North Korea’s military expenditures goes to its nuclear weapons program, not its troops. Many North Korean soldiers choose to defect because they lack the money for better treatment, faster promotions, reprieve from hazardous training and proper supplies to survive The Fall of an Old Regime North Korean’s former ambassador, Thae Yong-Ho, anticipates the collapse of Kim’s regime as more North Koreans grow conscious of the vast disparities in their living conditions and country’s development compared to the outside world. Capitalistic-style markets have emerged in North Korea and North Koreans watch illegally imported South Korean movies. It’s only a matter of time before something like the Arab Spring blooms in the DPRK. Life in the South North Korean defectors who make it across the border encounter South Korea’s fast-paced, competitive society; not all find freedom and prosperity and miss North Korea. Many North Korea defectors face discrimination, barriers to economic mobility, and isolation and have difficulties adjusting to South Korea society. To help with these issues, South Korean NGOs like the Korean Hana Organization help North Korean refugees to successfully resettle in South Korea. Another source. Allies of the North Korean Regime Pyeongyang’s partners, but not-quite-allies, include major global political players such as China and Russia and underground arms market dealers such as Iran(and some countries in Africa). China and Russia’s relations with North Korea, although less likely to support a North Korean attack on South Korea and American Forces, won’t assist in the collapse of the Kim regime. Iran is busy with its own issues in the Middle East. China North Korea’s long-time ally and biggest trade partner, China, views Korea’s reunification as losing a buffer zone between itself and US military forces in South Korea. China’s priority is regional stability at the expense of tolerating North Korea’s questionable political leadership and nuclear programs. The collapse of the Kim regime leaves China to worry about a sudden flood of refugees and Washington shifting its focus to Taiwan. More resources. Russia The allied partnership between Russia and North Korea dates back to the Soviet-era, but when the Soviet Union collapsed the new Russian government withdrew its economic subsidies and from its military alliance with Pyeongyang. Russia’s diminished influence in NorthEast inter-relations has prompted it to adjust its diplomatic policies with North Korea to preserve convenient economic ties with North Korea and challenge US hegemony in the Pacific. More resource. Iran Iran and North Korea connected over a mutual enmity of the US. Both have nuclear and ballistic missiles programs, putting their respective regions and the US on edge. North Korea started its WMD trade deals with Iran in the 1980’s. Iran has purportedly financed North Korea’s nuclear program in exchange for nuclear technology and intelligence. North Korea’s close cooperation with Iran is a modern-day trans-international nuclear proliferation nightmare. Reunification of Korea seems like an ideal solution to the threat of costly armed conflict with North Korea, but placating the Kim regime is the least preferred and most affordable bet for the US, Russia, China, and South Korea. It’s possible that the world will have to accept North Korea as a nuclear power because conflict between North and South Korea reaches beyond Korea. China doesn’t want to pressure North Korea to abandon its nuclear program in interest of protecting its country’s stability. Russia doesn’t see any benefit to losing the Kim regime and permitting Washington to have greater influence in the Pacific. South Korea’s future, the generation that’ll inherit the Blue House, has grown less and less motivated to rebuild the other half of Korea that’s culturally disparate and over 40 years behind it in terms of economic progress. Until the Kim regime collapses, South Korea has no choice but to encourage stronger inter-Korean relations while still holding onto an equally or much stronger defensive posture.