[Column] To those who call dialogue and negotiation “false peace”

Posted on : 2023-07-10 16:52 KST Modified on : 2023-07-10 16:52 KST
What those who claim that dialogue and negotiation constitute false peace want is war — but violence is not peace
Members of Korea Peace Appeal hold a press conference on July 4 outside the presidential office in Seoul to condemn the administration’s “stoking of a war crisis on the Korean Peninsula.” (Shin So-young/The Hankyoreh)
Members of Korea Peace Appeal hold a press conference on July 4 outside the presidential office in Seoul to condemn the administration’s “stoking of a war crisis on the Korean Peninsula.” (Shin So-young/The Hankyoreh)
By Kim Yeon-chul, former minister of unification and current professor at Inje University

“South and North Korea should sign a peace treaty to abandon the use of military force against each other and move towards normalizing relations in all areas.”

This statement was made not by an anti-state force but President Roh Tae-woo, the most conservative of them all, as part of his speech before the UN General Assembly in September 1991. Roh even proposed during this speech that the two Koreas “work towards arms reduction by establishing military trust.” It has been 32 years since a South Korean president proposed a peace treaty with North Korea on the international diplomatic stage, so complaints about “anti-state forces” seem outdated.

“We share the view that the problem of building a permanent regime of peace should be resolved through the efforts initiated by the parties directly involved in the Korean problems themselves.”

This was part of a joint news conference by US President Bill Clinton and President Kim Young-sam, the father of the conservative ruling party at the time, in April 1996 on Jeju Island. Through the declaration, South Korea and the US proposed that the two Koreas, the US, and China engage in four-party talks to discuss establishing a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.

Though sensitive to public opinion and prone to exploiting inter-Korean relations for domestic politics, Kim at least didn’t deny what the times called for in terms of peace. Although they did not yield outcomes, a total of six full-dress four-party talks have been held since 1997. There is a long history of agreement between South Korea and the US regarding a peace regime.

An end-of-war declaration is a stepping stone toward a peace treaty. Regarding an end-of-war declaration, the Moon Jae-in administration’s views aligned more closely with that of the US, which argued it should concur with denuclearization, than that of North Korea, which argued it should include actual measures. As it was considered important that South Korea and the US reach an agreement, making changes to the armistice regime, including changing the function of the UN Command, was not on the table for discussion. Hence, nothing was achieved. The argument that an end-of-war declaration is pro-North Korea is simply not true.

The Yoon Suk-yeol administration erased the word “peace” from all of its foreign and security policies. This is a scene unprecedented since the inception of the Korean nation. With North Korea continuing to arm itself with nuclear weapons, inter-Korean relations worsening for a prolonged period of time, and relations between the US and China growing more and more tense, I concede that it’s hard to expect negotiations to resume in the near future.

But neither the Roh administration nor the Kim administration proposed building a peace regime because inter-Korean relations were at a high. Peace is a challenge of our times on the Korean Peninsula, where war once raged, as well as the spirit of the Constitution and a value most of the public agree on. Who would want war except for some members of the far-right? If there is no will to create peace, protecting peace becomes naturally difficult. Why repeat a tragedy we’ve already endured?

What happens to the problem of North Korean nuclear weapons if building a peace regime is abandoned? For the last 30 years, discussions about forming a peace regime took place within the framework of negotiations regarding North Korea’s nuclear weapons. This is because, in order to create the conditions and environment in which North Korea can give up its nuclear weapons, security assurance has to be provided, the core of which is normalizing relations and forming a peace regime.

This has been consistent from the 1994 Agreed Framework between North Korea and the US to the Sept. 19 Joint Statement in 2005 and the summits between the two Koreas and between North Korea and the US in 2018. Giving up on establishing a peace regime naturally diminishes the chance the North Korean nuclear problem might be solved through dialogue and negotiation. What remains would be an arms race and the horror of nuclear war.

If South Korea, a key stakeholder in the discussion regarding a peace regime, gives up on the idea, no other neighboring country will attempt to change the status quo of the armistice regime. Neighboring countries prefer preserving the status quo. Even if peace in the legal sense in the form of a peace treaty is achieved through a comprehensive treaty amongst four parties, peace in the practical sense in the form of a peace regime should be agreed upon and realized by South and North Korea, parties directly concerned with establishing military trust. If the unstable armistice regime continues, the Korean Peninsula will merely serve as a stage for geopolitical tragedy where the politics of world powers collide.

The door to diplomacy has been closed, the bridge to negotiation has been cut off, and only discourse around war abounds. The saying that one must prepare for war if one desires peace — a saying from an era of sword-fighting — does not suit an era of nuclear armament. What those who claim that dialogue and negotiation constitute false peace want is war. But violence is not peace. Peace can only be sustained through peaceful means.

Moreover, peace is not up for political dispute. Accustomed to everyday peace, the public often forgets about the existence of peace, but that changes when peace is threatened. Public opinion is two-faced. While criticism against North Korea for worsening the situation on the Korean Peninsula is fierce, the public deems the government’s responsibility to manage and stabilize the situation important as well. In past elections, red scares and accusations of pro-North views always ended in backlash because the people of South Korea are much wiser than that.

In the 70th July since an armistice agreement that neither ended the Korean War nor brought peace to the Korean Peninsula but temporarily halted the war was signed, I ask what peace is. Peace is not war. To those who advocate for peace through strength regardless of party affiliation, I want to play the speech Roh gave at the UN General Assembly in 1989. He said, “The day swords are melted to make plows on the Korean Peninsula, definite peace will come to the world.”

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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