A Second Korea: to be or not to be

13:42 21.03.2013 • Armen Oganesyan , Editor-in-Chief, International Affairs

In his book, "On China," Henry Kissinger tried to identify on a world map the most explosive point that could trigger World War III. In his view, the main threat arises out of a tangle of contradictions about the political future of Pakistan and its regional environment. However events on the Korean Peninsula bring us back to the old, unhealed wounds of history and a relapse is dangerous and unpredictable.

Coming out of the armistice agreement, the DPRK returned the separated parts of the country to a de jure state of war. The question of whether or not there would be a unified Korean state was loudly discussed on both sides of the now almost arbitrary boundary. However these days talk about union are only in the context of mutual military threats. And Seoul does not keep it secret that it will be supported by a broad coalition of forces, primarily the United States.

Is it possible to separate the rhetoric from the real intentions of the parties in these mutual threats?

The North Korea Party press warns its people and the world: "We must be prepared for any eventuality." And here is a rare case where one can trust the propaganda - Pyongyang does not know what to do in the event of a deterioration of the situation in the country as a result of UN sanctions. The Leaders and people of the country remember the terrible famine of the 1990s, the results of which are felt to this day. But most importantly for the current regime is not to lose face, and maintain an aura as the holders of a historical mission in the eyes of the people.

As my friend, who at one time had a chance to visit with the UNESCO mission to the DPRK said, "It's not a different country, it's a different planet." That was said by a man who had spent a large part of his life in the USSR. The same thing was also testified to by an American journalist, Barbara Demick, who recently received in Vienna the annual international prize for the best book on human rights. The book is entirely devoted to the situation in North Korea, and the author admits that it is impossible to underestimate the sincerity of faith of North Koreans in regard to their leaders: this is not a cult of personality; it is a faith that reaches real deification.

If the "father of the Korean people," Kim il Sung "caused trees to flower and snow to melt", the birth of his son, "was accompanied by a flag of burning stars in the heavens." Swallows, came down from heaven, and sang a song about "a general who will rule the world." But, of course, first of all a conqueror of nations must unite their own people. Without it, the whole paradigm of the future development of the Korean people and the world historical role of their leaders would collapse.

The award ceremony in Vienna for Barbara Demick, bureau chief of the newspaper "Los Angeles Times", in Beijing, coincided with the worsening of the Korean issue after the UN Security Council sanctions. Responding to the news of the day, the journalist expressed her view that only North Korea is interested in a united Korea, probably referring to the ideological and economic reasons. In contrast, South Korea has not committed to this development, as they believe that this union is too costly an undertaking. Japan also is not interested in strengthening its economic competitor. And the U.S. does not want to lose the reason for its military presence in the region in the face of growing Chinese influence. Only later, as if to confirm this view, it was reported that the Pentagon is going to place additional funds for missile defense in Alaska and California, in response to the "nuclear threat" from the DPRK.

And what about China and Russia, who voted for UN sanctions against North Korea?

China is not interested in the unification of Korea. For it the status quo is preferable. Beijing cannot assume that Pyongyang will play the decisive role in the reunification of the divided nation. This means that South Korea will become an even more powerful neighbor in the region of a growing confrontation between the U.S. and China. It is enough to pay attention to the sharply increased interest in Beijing to develop its navy and merchant marine. China is implementing a maritime expansion program, and is in no way interested in strengthening South Korea and its ally in the Sea of Japan. That is why the rhetoric from China immediately after the decision of the Security Council became pacifying and moderated its very sharply hostile rhetoric towards the U.S.

As for Russia, it is just interested in the reunification of Korea into a single state, but without the guns and cruise missiles. Under the pretext of a Korean threat, which remains largely hypothetical, if we talk about the ability of North Korean missiles to cause serious damage to the security of America, Washington receives additional arguments in favor of the deployment of new missile defense systems already on United States territory. This fact can disrupt nuclear and missile parity between the U.S. and Russia. If we talk about the economy, Russia is primarily interested in a unified state as the guarantor of the construction of the Korean branch of "Gazprom" - an ambitious and profitable project.

Such disparate approaches and interests, on the one hand, confuse the situation, and on the other hand, give the appearance of a delicate balance, as if to keep the situation around Korea on the brink of serious upheavals.

For their part, the South Koreans are not indifferent to the prospect of war with their "blood related neighbors." South Korea is quite a prosperous state, accustomed to a peaceful and prosperous lifestyle, and to undermine their welfare by wars and mergers is not really their intent.

No wonder that a series of rallies and demonstrations were held in South Korea near the North Korean border after the announcement of the joint military exercises with the U.S. With all the geopolitical apportionments it is not to be discounted that the internal political situation in neighboring countries may at some point play a more significant role than the disjointed "orchestra" of external players.

The current North Korean leader Kim Jong- Un is the youngest of all the heads of state in the world. This very special person is associated with the expectations of the North Koreans. If Kim Il-Sung was named "leader of the people", the Korean national development theorist, his successor, Kim Jong Il was called "the Great Leader", who was intended to build up the spiritual and material forces of the Koreans for the implementation of his father’s covenants. But Kim Jong IL’s most common title was "Commander."

Of course, from the young son of the great general, who was declared the "Great successor" decisive action was expected, which so far have poured out in statements and threats to turn the South Korean islands into a "sea of fire."

The integrity and universality of support for the regime made a strong impression on Barbara Demick, although she has published a series of interviews with North Koreans who fled to South Korea. However, a number of experts, including Russians, believe that this is not the case. North Korea is the only country that does not have Internet access. The country is closed to outsiders. Nevertheless, a number of international organizations report that 200 thousand dissidents and opposition members and 40 thousand Christians are languishing in North Korean concentration camps. The latter are a special case because of their belief in God but not in Kim Il Sung and his heirs, which undermines the very basis of the deified regime.

If not large cracks, then at least small cracks in the notorious monolith clearly exist, which means that for power the urgent task is to maintain rigid social consolidation under external pressure. This makes Pyongyang increasingly unpredictable, the situation on the peninsula is reaching a political dead end, and the temptation to get out of it by the use of military force, is highly probable.

More than 60 years ago during the Korean War, the United States sought the consent of London to use the nuclear bomb against Korea. The world was on the brink of nuclear war, but the British were opposed.

Today, the threshold of war for Korea has declined. It is unlikely that Pyongyang, with its back against the wall, and with economic sanctions and military activity near its borders, will consult with anyone.<!--EndFragment-->


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