4/24/2023 - Politics and Society

Korea: nuclear weapons, peace and the risk of war in the Pacific

By Lucia Pereyra

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The Korean War (1950-1953)

The Korean War was the first war of the Cold War, the first clash between the two powers whose ideologies were faced for more than forty years.

History of the Korean War

When Japan was defeated by the Allies in 1945, the Japanese country lost control over the Korean peninsula, so the Soviet Union occupied the northern part, and the United States to the south, imposing its ideologies in its portion of territory. Thus, the peninsula was divided by the 38th parallel, the north ruled by Kim Il-Sung of communist ideology and Soviet influence, and the south under the command of Sygman Rhee, a pro-American, capitalist and anti-communist government. Despite the attempts of the newly created UN, Korea failed to unify itself under capitalist terms, concentrating the ideological conflict.

Development of the conflict

In August 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea. The U.S. intervention, led by General Douglas MacArthur, failed in the beginning, as the U.S. and South Korean troops were forced to retreat to the southeast end of the peninsula. In just two months, the North Koreans managed to move the South Koreans and Americans to Busan. However, Americans surprised opponents with a bold landing at Inchon (around Seoul), in mid-September 1950. Soon, the allies had occupied almost the entire peninsula. There was a tension with newly consolidated Communist China, as troops approached the Yalu River, the border between North Korea and China. Consequently, 100 000 volunteers China managed to repel the US and South Korean forces.

The United States had occupied the entire peninsula of Korea. Unifying it would imply a future conflict, something harmful to both. The troops retreated south stabilizing the war around the 38th parallel until 1953.

The Korean War as a subsidiary war

The Korean War has become a “subsidiary” war: a war that occurs when two or more powers use conflicts and third-party territories to face between them, something that characterized the entire Cold War period.

A devastated peninsula and 1 million casualties were the results of the war, without clear triumph of any gang and a similar border to that previously established in the 38th parallel. An armistice was signed in 1953 after the death of Yosef Stalin, who did not end the war, but established a ceasefire. The non-end of war is one of the main conflicts in Asia and one of the unresolved conflicts worldwide. To date, formal diplomatic relations between the two Korean states continue without effect.

The current relationship between North Korea and South Korea

North Korea is one of the most heretic and authoritarian countries in the world and is one of the major threats to the international system due to its nuclear weapons. The end of the Cold War was one before and one after for international relations: more and more countries have democratized, stepping into a wave of liberal internationalism and a democratic expansion with the US hegemony to the head. The tense relationship between the two Koreas continues today, however, despite Kim Jong-Un's nuclear program, there are currently many attempts at reconciliation and negotiation. The liberal paradigm, which can be used as a theory in this case, refers to the possibility of reaching peace through law, i.e. international cooperation, diplomacy and international treaties.

Meetings between leaders from North Korea and South Korea

The attempts to communicate between the two countries through their leaders were five times. The last three took place in just 2018: one in April, another in May, and the last in September, with the same leaders as the protagonists of the meeting: Moon Jae-In, president of South Korea, and Kim Jong-Un, supreme leader of the north. “Today we are on a starting line where we are writing a new history of peace, prosperity and inter-Korean relations,” said Kim before crossing the border to the south, something never before done. In addition, they committed themselves to ‘denuclearizing’ the peninsula. The international system could have seen a horizon of relief after this summit and with that promise: one of the most dangerous countries for international peace could not continue with its nuclear programme.

[caption id="attachment_9748" align="aligncenter" width="650"] Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-in walking together on the border between the two countries.[/caption]


The following month, both of them rejoined the border, this time in a sorpressive manner, in the Reunification Pavilion, a construction of the north side used for peace talks between leaders. The aim of this summit was to plan the possible tensions between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump, when the latter canceled the Singapore Summit that would take place next month. So the conversation aimed to get Kim and Trump to attend the summit; the first time the leader of North Korea and a US president would meet. It was of vital importance that a President with such a realistic foreign policy as that of Trump meets with one of his main enemies internationally.

The third and final summit to date on 18 September 2018 was in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital. Little is known of that, but kept the agenda of the total denuclearization of the peninsula as a final goal.

But the ‘peace through law’ lasted little. The unification illusions and the end of the North Korean nuclear agenda ended in 2020, when numerous North Korean deserters (and activists) who escaped from the north to the south, sent pamphlets with anti-nor South Korea propaganda across globes; thus, they would arrive from one country to another. They arrived to launch half a million cartels, which effectively reached North Korean territory.

[caption id="attachment_9747" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Image: EFE/Kim Chul-Soo[/caption]

Faced with relations and tensions in the region

The rise of the sister of the North Korean leader, Kim Yo-Jong, was a crucial element of the deterioration of relations between the two countries in the last two years. Despite being able to comply with certain orders that were imponed, it was she who reacted with concrete measures upon the arrival of the pamphlets. On June 16, 2020, the Inter-Korean Joint Engagement Office was demolished by the North Korean government. The building was located in Kaesong, North Korea, near the southern border. It worked as the only communication channel between both countries, whose functions began at the first summit of 2018. The Korean Central News Agency, the state news agency in North Korea, issued a statement the same day:

" The corresponding area of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea put into practice the measure of completely destroying the inter-Korean liaison office in the Kaesong industrial zone, after cutting all the lines of communication between the North and the South, which corresponds to the mentality of the angry people to force human slag and those who protected her to pay dearly for her crimes. ”The destruction of communications was the total destruction of advances in 2018. Although the summits of the year did not hold the Kim Jong-Un nuclear program in October 2020, a military parade took place in Pyongyang in which an intercontinental missile was presented, which could be of the largest in the world.

Yoon Suk-yeol, current President of South Korea, and in campaign promised to have a tough policy with his northern neighbor, with military body growth and direct response to a future attack on Seoul. The pragmatism and receptivity of the South Korean government have lapsed, and now the scenario is made up of a dictatorial leader with recurring missile trials, and a South Korean president with a hard roer bone that does not seem to be willing to negotiate as his predecessor did.

Scenarios and risks in the Far East

2021 and 2022 are two years when the North Korean government has proven numerous long-range missiles, generating tensions in the Far East, especially because some missiles fall into the Sea of Japan. The realistic paradigm characterizes this issue. In an anarchical international system where the state functions as a unitary actor, they are constantly calculating the costs and benefits of their actions. They observe the policies of other states to act on their behalf. War, in realism, is inevitable, and it must be prepared to protect itself from them. Kenneth Waltz, one of the precursors of structural realism, introduces the concept of the balance of power, which is given through violence or integration. The balance of power can be analyzed in terms of international security. It is true that if North Korea does not commit itself to denuclearizing the country, no state that has nuclear weapons will leave it, since they protect it from threats. After all, nuclear weapons serve not to be used, because it means mutual destruction assured. Nuclear weapons generate more fear than significant facts, as happened during the Cold War. North Korea's threat to missiles is something that remains relatively stable.

The risk of a war in the Far East is real. The international system, above all, is concerned about the possible reaction of North Korea and its medium-range missiles or the weapons it creates in its nuclear programme, since it is not regulated by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (1970), unlike nuclear countries such as China, United States, Russia, France and the United Kingdom. But war would not be triggered by the provocations of the North Korean country, but by the ambitions of China and by the reaction of its neighbours to a possible balance of power at a security level. The People's Republic seeks full control of Hong Kong, unification with Taiwan and sovereignty over the South China Sea, including its islands, a dispute that maintains with countries such as Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei. So a possible armed conflict would be given in the Indo-Pacific, that is, in the sea, and the theme system for the use of nuclear weapons by North Korea, which is a clear ally of China. Another conflict with China is with Pakistan and India, and the territory of Kashmir is disputed, and it is another of the “frozen” wars since the Cold War.

The greatest concern today has to do with the rise and ambitions of China and the possibility of a possible conflict of some of the disputes mentioned. North Korea would play a crucial role: its choice of incorporating itself into some of them as China's unconditional ally.

The Far East conflict is one of the most latent of today. Some are armed, others are allied, and others choose neutrality. In a situation as complex as this, it is difficult to choose only one path, and in anarchical international system, countries act according to their neighbor's actions to achieve the balance of power.

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lucia pereyra

Lucia Pereyra

Hi! I am Lucia, I am a Bachelor of International Relations, Master of Journalism and I am currently studying a specialization in Korean Studies. I dedicate myself to the analysis of the media of the internal policies of the political parties of the City of Buenos Aires, where I specialize in monitoring news and analysis of public and journalistic perception. Previously, I was an intern as a journalist in the political section of La Nación and a researcher at CESIUB on Asia and Oceania

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