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Title There Should Be No War on the Korean Peninsula Date 2020.02.10

Tae-Hwan Kwak

Attach IFES 포럼 원고_200210.docx
As we went through a very versatile 2019 year, many thoughts have passed about what will happen on the Korean peninsula in the hopeful new year of 2020. The last thing the author wants is another war on the Korean peninsula caused by foreign forces. If a war breaks out again on the Korean peninsula, it will be the self-destruction of the Korean people and great human disaster. Therefore, it is the author's best value and the correct path for the Korean people’s survival that there should be no war again on the Korean peninsula.

The United States and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) have foreshadowed the use of force if each will cross red lines drawn by the other.  Regrettably, the United States has publicly discussed military options against Pyongyang.

On the other hand, Pyongyang threatened a high-level military provocation with its “Christmas gift,” on December 25, 2019, and it threatened the U.S. to propose a new formula for denuclearization negotiations by the end of the year 2019. If not, Pyongyang would take a ‘new path.’ Many analysts have argued that the new path would be North Korea's launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). As President Donald Trump put it, “Try crossing the red line with long-range ballistic missiles.” When both sides cross each other’s red line, many foresaw unfounded military action. The author has argued that military action by both sides is not a desirable option. 

North Korea Policy Representative/Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun and his team planned to return home after visiting South Korea and Japan on December 15-19, and they suddenly changed the schedule and visited China on December 19-20.  They had two goals: First, since DPRK threatened a high-level military procation, which is beyond the red line set by the United States, Biegun wanted to discuss with China, which would persuade North Korea not to cross the red line. Biegun appeared to have considered the draft UN Security Council resolution submitted by China and Russia. Second, Washington seemed to have asked China to arrange a U.S.-North Korea working-level meeting in Beijing. However, there was no such meeting between Washington and Pyongyang, and eventually, the Biegun team returned home empty-handed. 

Biegun and his team were reportedly ready to make a good deal with North Korea. However, they failed to have a working-level meeting with Pyongyang in the end. Regrettably, North Korean attitude was a disappointment to the issue of authenticity in the denuclearization negotiations. 

The DPRK refused Washington-Pyongyang talks requested by Biegun in Seoul and Beijing but refrained from criticizing the United States. While Pyongyang waited for a new U.S. calculus on denuclearization negotiations by the end of 2019, Pyongyang’s ‘Christmas gift’ was not a military provocation violating the UN Security Council resolutions, such as an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test or satellite launch.

The possibility of war on the Korean peninsula remains, but the probability is relatively low because nobody wants a nuclear war. However, if an accidental armed conflict occurs, it is likely to expand to a full-scale war. An all-out war on the Korean peninsula could be a nuclear war. Thus, any country in Northeast Asia should refrain from military provocations, which could eventually lead to a nuclear war.

Many commentators say that the new path North Korea wants to take is to resume ICBM test-launches. Despite the dire situation, it is relatively quiet in South Korea. What will President Trump do if Pyongyang decides to launch an ICBM?  Some argue that the United States would carry out military action against North Korea.

The Trump administration said it would intercept North Korea's ICBM. Will President Trump and the U.S. military do it? If the United States begins a military attack on North Korea, one wonders what the Moon Jae-in government will do. Will President Moon endorse the U.S.'s unilateral military attack on North Korea? If the United States were to take military action against North Korea, would North Korea then launch a counter attack on South Korea? Will the streets of Pyongyang beautifully designed by Chairman Kim Jong Un remain safe? Pyongyang will undoubtedly turn into a sea of fire. That means Kim Jong Un would be committing North Korea’s own self-destruction because of the use of force by both sides. Therefore, the author does not think Chairman Kim will commit such suicide by crossing the red line set by the United States.

What would happen to the Korean peninsula if Washington uses military force against North Korea without the consent of the Moon Jae-in government? Who would guarantee that Washington’s use of force against North Korea would not result in war on the Korean peninsula? There should be no war on the Korean peninsula. However, if military action happens, will Seoul and Pyongyang be safe? 

What could Chairman Kim do otherwise? In the author’s view, Chairman Kim is unlikely to return to the pre-Singapore summit meeting days on June 12, 2018. Kim wants to make the best deal with Washington to secure the right to survival of his regime and economic development. If Kim does not want to miss this opportunity, the author strongly urges Kim to come immediately to the denuclearization negotiations table. 

It is frightening to think about a war scenario, but President Trump continues to threaten war on the Korean peninsula. Chairman Kim should not cross the red line. There should be no war on the Korean peninsula.  If there is a new war on the Korean peninsula, it may turn into World War III, which will result in 100 million people dead and the destruction of the Korean people. 

Dr. Kwak's short profile

Dr. Tae-Hwan Kwak, Professor Emeritus at Eastern Kentucky University, USA, former President of Korea Institute for National Unification, former Director of the Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES), Kyungnam University, Seoul, is a specialist on Northeast Asian affairs and Korean peace and unification issues. He taught international relations and East Asian politics over thirty years in 1969-1999 at Eastern Kentucky University and Korean universities. He received his Ph.D. in International Relations from Claremont Graduate University in 1969.
Dr. Kwak has authored, edited, and coedited 32 books, including One Korea: Visions of Korean Unification (Routledge, 2017), North Korea and Security Cooperation in Northeast Asia (Ashgate, 2014), Peace Regime Building on the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asian Security Cooperation (Ashgate, 2010), etc. He has authored over 300 book chapters and scholarly articles in Korean, Japanese and English. He is also active in NGO organizations in Seoul and Los Angeles.  Dr. Kwak, a recipient of 2012 Global Peace Foundation's innovative scholarship for peace award, received an honorary degree in political science from Kyungnam University in June 2019