The Korean Peninsula Conflict is not North-South, but North-USA

EDITORIAL, 16 Sep 2008

#25 | Johan Galtung

Peace studies divide into two parts, negative and positive.

Negativepeace studies are about prevention of violence, and the most promisingapproach is to solve underlying conflicts through mediation andconciliation.

Positivepeace studies are about building equitable relations, not only formutual but also for equal benefit, and the most promising approachesare through cooperation, harmony and fusion into a higher unit.

Both apply to the Korean peninsula.

Itis possible to work on both at the same time.  Great progress has beenmade, like crossing the border by car into special areas, but muchremains to be done. And positive peace presupposes negative peace; ifthe underlying conflict is not reasonably well solved, positive peacewill be a house built on sand.

Theword “unification”, often used for positive peace in Korea, isproblematic, and may itself stand in the way of unification.Unification of the Korean nation through open borders and free flow ofpersons, ideas, goods and services between the two Koreas isunproblematic.

Butunification of the two states into one is highly problematic.  Onestate less?  In that case which one, and how?  Through militaryconquest like North Korea tried 1950-53?  Or, as they also did, waitingfor the collapse of the capitalist autocracy in the South?  Or, as somedo in South Korea today, waiting and hoping for North Korea tocollapse, like East Germany, calculating the costs, without knowing theserious negative effects in Germany?

Whether through conquest or collapse, this approach to unification is not peaceful. Peace has to be obtained by peaceful means.

Ofcourse, the two Koreas could one day agree to fuse into a higher unit,simply called Korea.  But, to do that equitably, without any violence,is very complicated, with no clear example.  Takeovers, by conquest orafter collapse, are frequent and always leave deep wounds.

Fortunately,there are several in-betweens, like associative relations ofcooperation, a confederation of the two Koreas, and a federation withthe two Koreas still there, but as part of one unified, but notunitary, state.

However,all of that can come later.  What matters now is unification of thenation with open borders and a flow, like inside the European Union.The countries are still there, but tied together by bonds ofcooperation and that flow.

For this to happen, however, conflicts have to be solved.  What is the conflict about?

Manypeople say it is between North and South Korea.  North attacked, andthe solution was to station US troops (with nuclear arms); after thatNorth has not attacked. US troops was the solution.  But in the Northmany say: the USA and South plan to attack as evidenced by the manyteam exercises; in addition, they want to “absorb us after collapse”,as evidenced by the many reports.

All true, but only as partial truths. For a more complete truth let us go a little back in time.

Forinstance, to 4/3 1946. Jeju Island, the very South of South Korea. Anuprising against the US occupation for being so similar to the Japaneseoccupation, even using the same legal framework.  Maybe North Koreacame to help?  One more partial truth.

Or,go back to 1910, Japanese annexation of Korea as they call it,invasion-occupation as others may call it – till 1945.  How did theterrible division of a country, and a nation, in two come about? Because colonialism had made Korea divisible by losing a war againsttwo powers very happy to divide that booty, and put their stamp on eachpart.

Or, go back to 1905- the Taft-Katsura Memorandum about zones of interest, giving to theUSA the Philippines, and to Japan Korea.  The USA had already taken itspart, now it was Japan’s turn.  Two robbers with a very cooperative,harmonious relation.  The same year as Japan was beating Russia, Japanalready cast her eyes on Korea. Indeed expansionist.

Bynow it all becomes more complicated, by no means forgetting the simplefact that North Korea once attacked the South.  In conflict analysisand mediation there has to be space for many and contradictory truths. Japan becomes a major cause, so does the USA.  So does China, havingsupported North Korea during the 1950-53 war.  And Russia, moreindirectly.

In otherwords, those six parties in the Six Parties talk bring to the tablemuch more than North Korean nuclear disarmament.   Maybe the missilesand the test were signals from North Korea to Japan and the USA: if youthink we are collapsing, you are mistaken!  Our conflict is not withSouth Korea but with the two of you.  With Japan for colonizing us,making us divisible and never apologizing, compensating or helping usovercome the division. And with the USA for continuing thatcolonization by denying us a peace treaty, diplomatic relations andnormal relations.

KimIl-Sung dies in that arch-Confucian country, and the son cannot deviatefrom the father’s line for ten years. What does the son do then?  Hestarts creating a Chinese-style economy tied to China, just like SouthKorea started creating a US-style economy linked to the USA.  Verylogical, given the 1950-53 line-up.

Andhow about the Six Parties line-up? Basically China-North Korea againstUSA-Japan, with South Korea vacillating, split to a large extent by itsown East-West divide. Some side with China-North Korea, some withUSA-Japan — Kim and Roh more with the former, Lee more with the latter.

AndNorth Korea?  They have outlived even more US presidents than FidelCastro.  Like Cuba, they will change, but on their own terms.  Andtheir terms are crystal clear: peace treaty, diplomatic relations,normalization. Do that, and the whole nuclear issue will melt away atthe same time.  Do not do it, and there will be no nuclear disarmament.Do it, and relations to South Korea will improve immediately.  Therehas to be a deal like in the Cuban missile crisis, US missiles out ofTurkey in return for Soviet missiles not deployed in Cuba, not somemyth about submitting to US strength. Koreans are proud people, verymany resisted Japan, South resisted North, North resists USA.

Clintonor Obama, the ball is in your court! Bush and McCain being hopeless.And, as neither trusts the other, the USA has to hand in theinstruments of normalization to some third party (the UN, the other 4parties). And North Korea hands in the basic keys for dismantling. Thethird party examines them and hands them to the other. Simultaneity ispossible, like using escrow for the check and the deed whenbuying/selling a house.

Twopositive points: The South Korean Ambassador to Norway recently visitedan experimental school where kids learn the Transcend approach – calledSabona, Zulu for “I see you!” – to conflict solution at the daily lifelevel. He wants it introduced to South Korean schools, and to the SouthKorean media.

And, moreimportantly: Pyongyang invited recently the New York PhilharmonicOrchestra. Phil = love, for harmony, for positive peace.  Philadelphia(=Brotherhood) Symphony Orchestra would also have worked. There is muchin a name. Brilliant, and reminiscent of Beijing ping pong diplomacy1970: let us compete, but orderly, peacefully, according to rules. Itworked.  As will the Pyongyang approach to the USA, being lifted by thearts.

In the meantimeSouth Korea may become less important by sidelining itself, unless itsides with the future, not with the past.  Exercise pressure on both,on the USA for normalization and on North Korea for nucleardisarmament. Both at the same time.

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 16 Sep 2008.

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