Only two options in Korea: war or peace


Caption: Napalm bombing of village near Hanchon, North Korea, 10 May 1951. Use of napalm on villages later became infamous in Vietnam, but much more was dumped on North Korea. (Photo: AP)


By Cameron Orr

From 1950-53, the U.S. military was engaged in the Korean War, sandwiched between the end of World War II and the beginning of the anti-Communist Vietnam War. Korea was in the process of a revolutionary struggle for national independence and the U.S. hoped to prevent Communists from taking power. Despite relatively little discussion in the U.S. of this major world event, it factors greatly in the minds of Koreans with respect to tensions surrounding the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, more commonly referred to as North Korea), and the ROK (Republic of Korea, also known as South Korea).

An April 26th segment of CGTN’s program The Heat entitled Korean Peninsula tensions on CGTN discusses how during the Korean War, the United States firebombed all of North Korea’s cities, razing them to the ground, and covered the entire country in Napalm, a chemical weapon. 3-4 million Koreans died, including 20% of North Korea’s entire population. One million Chinese died, and about 37,000 U.S. soldiers were also killed.

The DPRK has sought a peace treaty with the United States many times, but none was ever signed. The Korean War was only stalled by an Armistice Agreement. The line separating the South from the North remains the most militarized border in the world and the U.S. maintains over a hundred military bases in the ROK and nearby Japan.

According to a statement from the Korea Peace Campaign (, led by Veterans for Peace, “after dividing Korea into two arbitrarily at the end of the WW II, the U.S. military has been more or less occupying South Korea since 1945.” After the 1953 cease-fire, “the U.S. brought in its nuclear weapons into South Korea in 1958 in violation of the Armistice Agreement – igniting an intense arms race with North Korea.” The DPRK started their own nuclear program two decades later. “The U.S. military troops in South Korea number about 28,500, which cost us billions of dollars each year that are solely needed at home. From 1950, the U.S. also imposed and maintains heavy economic sanctions on DPRK. The tragic Korean War is still continuing today without a peace treaty.”

The DPRK says their current nuclear program is necessary to defend itself. An April 21st segment of The Heat: Roundtable on French election, DPRK tensions and Trump’s policies, discusses how the DPRK withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty and began building nuclear weapons after George W. Bush labeled North Korea, along with Iran and Iraq, part of the “Axis of Evil.” This was part of the buildup to the war in Iraq and the broader so-called “War on Terror.” Iraq had already been disarmed, and the DPRK concluded that without a nuclear weapons program, they would also be invaded. After Trump released 69 missiles on Syria and the MOAB bomb in Afghanistan, DPRK took this as further proof that its own nuclear capabilities are necessary for its own independence. It drew a similar lesson from the experience of Libya. Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi eliminated the country’s nuclear program in 2003. Eight years later, the U.S. invaded that country and murdered Gaddafi.

China, which shares a 880-mile border with the DPRK, “has put forward a proposal to pursue, in parallel tracks, the denuclearization of the Peninsula and the replacement of the armistice agreement with a peace treaty,” according to their Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They maintain that a peaceful realization of this goal can only be reached through six-party talks between the U.S., North and South Korea, China, Russia, and Japan.

However, according to statements from Alexandra Bell on an April 22 segment of The Point with Liu Xin U.S. vs. DPRK: Who’s in the wrong?, “that discussion can only happen with a full national security team in place.” Bell is senior policy director at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. She pointed out that Trump has “yet to fill out a leadership team on national security in the Dept. of Defense or Dept. of State. We do not have ambassadors in South Korea or Japan or China. … You need experts in place and you need leaders directing those experts who have a clear and consistent idea of what the U.S. goal is.”

Past negotiations have been successful. In 1994, the Agreed Framework between the U.S. and the DPRK eased tensions, and the DPRK suspended its nuclear program. Under the leadership of Kim Dae-jung in South Korea, the sunshine policy laid the basis for a peaceful resolution. DPRK leader Kim Jong-il and Kim Dae-jung met together, and Madeleine Albright, then Secretary of State, went to Pyongyang, the capital of DPRK, and also met with Kim Jong-il. Developments toward a normalization of relationships with North Korea were reversed by the George W. Bush administration, who was rude to the South Korean President Kim Dae-jung during a visit to the White House, and who proclaimed North Korea as part of the “Axis of Evil.” Bush also declared the U.S. was leaving the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, resuming production of nuclear weapons.

Rex Tillerson, the Exxon CEO that Trump appointed as Secretary of State, has since declared that the U.S. is considering relisting DPRK as a sponsor of terrorism.

As CGTN senior host and journalist Liu Xin has pointed out, “Since the 1990’s, every time there was some kind of agreement between the DPRK and the US to stop the DPRK’s nuclear program, an incoming US government would make a flip flop, turning back on their promises only the provoke the DPRK further into its own quest for safety. So while China stands firmly against a nuclear-armed DPRK, consistency in US government policies is needed to denuclearize the peninsula. Unfortunately, that’s not something we can expect from from [the Trump] administration.”

Chung Kiyul, visiting professor from Tsinghua University, said in an April 22 segment of The Point with Liu Xin “U.S. vs. DPRK: Who’s in the wrong? there are only two options: war or peace. Every time the war option has been evaluated, it has been determined as an impossibility due to the profoundly disastrous humanitarian and economic consequences it would create in the entire region. Certainly, the tremendous value of current and future investments in China would be jeopardized, as that country has become a major economic player in the world.

Kiyul noted that “even the U.S. government, including the Trump administration, acknowledge no matter what the U.S. has done so far, the last 20-30 years has failed” in bringing about the U.S. goal of regime change in the DPRK.

“The message the DPRK leadership sent to Washington was, ‘Let’s sit and find the way to bring about the peace regime,” said Kiyul “meaning concluding the peace treaty by replacing armistice agreement.” Kiyul believes the time is coming when “northeast Asia and the Korean peninsula may face a new wave of dialogue and engagement.”

THAAD deployment

Tensions on the Korean peninsula were further escalated by the recent deployment of the THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) system in the ROK amid protests from South Koreans. The U.S. maintains the THAAD is needed to be able to shoot down missiles from the DPRK, but others see its deployment as part of a build up of U.S. military bases surrounding China.

The THAAD deployment occurred during a gap in South Korean leadership. South Korean President Park Geun-hye was recently removed from office for accusations of bribery and abuse of power. Hwang Kyo-ahn, who had been Park’s prime minister, served as interim president of South Korea until the next round of elections, which occurred on May 9. Both frontrunner candidates in that election, Moon Jae-in and Ahn Cheol-soo, favored negotiations with DPRK. Moon is opposed to the deployment of THAAD and Ahn had expressed opposition to its accelerated deployment. On May 9, Moon won the election, inciting a flurry of anti-Communist news segments in the U.S. directed against both North and South Korea.

Even though the RoK is opposed to its presence in their country, the Trump administration has claimed that South Korea should pay the $1 Billion it cost to deploy the missile defense system, as noted in a May 1st segment of The Heat: Ongoing DPRK Tensions. Now that THAAD has been deployed, it will be difficult for the new South Korean president to remove it from the RoK. The U.S., especially its military apparatus, is determined to deploy this system because it allows the U.S. to consolidate its presence on the Korean peninsula.

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