The Korean Peninsula Conflict: A Way Out

EDITORIAL, 30 May 2016

#430 | Johan Galtung

Jeju Peace Forum, Kwangju National University, Seoul; South Korea

Like the Israel-Palestine conflict, the world has gotten tired of it, “what, the two Koreas still unable to sort it out”?  Also, like Israel-Palestine, the USA is in it; making the situation complicated.

Never has the situation been so tense after the end of the war in Korea more than 60 years ago.  Not only because of the nuclear bomb with missiles in North Korea, and the hawkish pro-nuke reaction in South Korea and Japan, but because of no moves forward to solve the underlying conflict.  And where is that conflict?  Not between North and South Korea, but between North Korea and USA that after 140+ years of victorious warfare had to accept armistice, not victory, in Korea.

Conflict means incompatible goals. Travel to Pyongyang and find that their goals are peace treaty, normalization of relations, and a nuclear free Korean Peninsula.  And the US goal is the collapse of the present NK regime; failing that, status quo.  Given the threat of a major war, even nuclear war, that goal is untenable.  Some points.

  • Why does NK have nuclear capability? Because NK is threatened by the USA-South Korea alliance in general and their “Team Spirit” in particular to deter conventional, or nuclear attacks; failing that to fight back, and particularly against where the attack might come from: US bases in Okinawa-RyuKyu, and from Japan proper. Militarily trivial.
  • AND to have a bargaining chip in any denuclearization that of course has to be monitored; given the US cheating in connection with Austrian neutralization in 1955 focused particularly on that one.
  • AND to show that we are not collapsing, we are capable of making nuclear bombs and the missiles to carry them; far from collapsing.
  • AND, ominously: as the ultimate response if threatened by collapse. Nuclear suicide?  More likely killing those seen as never listening, never thawing in sunshine, using boycotts and sanctions.

Beat a dog repeatedly and it becomes crazy. NK has been beaten, also by exceptional rain causing slides of clay covering enormous cultivated areas, but mainly by an unholy alliance Seoul-Washington. Seoul even commits fratricide on their brothers and sisters in NK, into death and collapse, because Seoul dislikes their regime.

This situation has made both Koreas absurd societies, detached from reality. In the North a fundamentalist Confucian society with a filial piety through the Kims, assuming that the spirit of Kim Il Sung drifts down to son and grandson as incorporations in one person of the national will; in the South through the Parks, at present running a society that is a carbon copy of Japan down to the smallest details on the basis of hysterical anti-Japanism, run by US micro-management.

They will both change.  Absurdities are unsustainable.

SK is also a Christian, Methodist-Catholic, country.  But one senses no Love Thy Neighbor and Love Thy Enemy, only much of Seoul sitting in “judgment over living and dead”.  Jointly with USA.

Sanctions are multi-state terrorism, like terrorism and state terrorism hitting the weak, defenseless, and like them backfiring. Idea: “get rid of your leaders and terrorism will stop”. Reality: the victims turn against the killers, not the leaders. One more absurdity.

There is a way out.  Build on the North Korean goals, hold NK to their words. Their regime will, like all regimes, change; even the USA is now heading for basic change.  Design a peace treaty, like with South Korea, normalize diplomatic relations North-South and North-USA; and design a regime for a nuclear free peninsula, destroying or removing weapons monitored by solid UN inspection, also claims of no weapons.

The two instruments for normalization and denuclearization are then exchanged by depositing them in an escrow with a third party–the UN General Assembly, not UNSC, too similar to the Six Parties Talks.

Then: implementation; preferably quick; de Gaulle style.

But that is only the beginning, only remedies for a pathological and very dangerous situation.  Then comes the peace-building, based on cooperation for mutual and equal benefit, equity (not some SK chaebol-재벌 getting cheap labor in NK), and on harmony based on deep empathy with each other, sharing joys and sorrows; not the opposite, like enjoying suffering and imminent collapse because “sanctions are having a bite”.

Of 40 such proposals here are two.

There is the contested maritime zone between the two different maritime border: use it for joint fishing and joint fish breeding. Share the income 40-40-20; 20 for the ecology and administration.

There is no flight Seoul-Pyongyang: start it both ways. Use it also for the construction workers and personnel for two embassies.

Admittedly, it is unlikely that USA will come to its senses and initiate all of this although not impossible-the absurdity built into the US boycott of Cuba is being remedied after 58 years. For Korea under a Trump or Sanders presidency, but not belligerent Clinton.

South Korea has to do it, by becoming an independent, autonomous country, not micro-managed, on at least this issue.  There is a longer term mechanism: absurdities have limited life expectancy as witnessed by the decline and fall of empires to the UK, Soviet and US empires.

And there is a short term possibility: presidential power in SK accrues to the two term UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, if elected as a candidate for the governing Saenuri party. Watching his choice of words on the Korean issue, he is always emphasizing dialogue. He would know how to handle a UN General Assembly Uniting for Peace, could have dialogue contact with NK; the rest more or less as above.

Could a united Korean nation with two states at peace inspire the other four of the Six, their ten relations all non-peace, some even recently at war?  History moves quickly these days.  If pushed by democratic pressure from below. And pulled by power from above.


Johan Galtung, a professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He has published 164 books on peace and related issues, of which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.

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23 Responses to “The Korean Peninsula Conflict: A Way Out”

  1. Paul Reimer says:

    Three things this writing boils down to:

    1) The US: Nork bad, Nork bad, Nork bad, Nork bad (repeat all over again)

    2) Galtung (and Nork): US Bad, US bad, US Bad, US Bad, US Bad,(repeat all over again)

    3) Sanctions are terrorism. Unless they are targeting Israel, then they are OK.

    There is stuff to admire in J Galtung’s work but he is turning himself into occational self-parody.

  2. to Paul Reimer by Deldano says:

    Jesus Christ! What is it with this site attracting people who are so ideologically obtusely pro-american, that everytime Galtung points to the fact that the greatest power on earth has interests in other regions of the earth, and is proactively hampering deescalation or depolarization of conflicts abroad, that these people can’t hold the thought in their mind that the US actually is a catalyst that is meddling with the welfare of other people to make sure i.e. that they do not lose markets in the region against an increasing economic player in the region which is China.

    What is it with these people who do not understand that Galtung is into figuring out peace-equilibriums hence he has to identify the distorting variables and name them. What has that got to do with hating the USA? Is it so difficult to understand, against all the evidence out there, that the US is a major player everywhere and not necessarily a constructive one? What the heck are they doing in the south china seas anyhow? Not saying they shouldn’t be there. Really asking: What the heck are they doing there? Can you quantify it? One need not hate the USA to acknowledge, that it is, for reasons that its elite and decisionmakers know best, not interested in anything CHANGING on this earth without its say.

    Anyhow: A more complete scan of what this editorial boils down to, was offered by the author himself:

    “Design a peace treaty, like with South Korea, normalize diplomatic relations North-South and North-USA; and design a regime for a nuclear free peninsula, destroying or removing weapons monitored by solid UN inspection.”

    More specifically, how I read Galtung:

    The nuclear situation down there is a fucked up situation for all involved.
    SK gov is not SK population.
    NK gov is not NK population.
    SK is a vassal state to the USA and has been since Syngman Rhee.
    SK has received Marshall Plan like investments from the US since the cold war.
    SK’s gov is not interested in unifying NK & SK populations split by geopolitics.
    NK wants normalization. But is traumatized and apprehensive.
    NK is afraid of what the US did to Irak.
    NK is afraid of what NATO did to Libya.
    NK is dangerous. Fear is not a good guide to peace politics.
    SK is not INITIATING GRID: graduated reciprocal identifiable deescalation: it should!

    • Paul Reimer says:

      Dear Mr Deldano

      I owe you an answer to some of your other points. And one thing in particular caught my eye. You state that JG is “into figuring out peace-equilibriums”.

      I’m not so sure. I think that JG’s problem is that he is trying to match peace-eqilibriums with his own pre-conceived ideas on how the world looks according to him, rather than how it is. JG is clearly in love with China, or at least with his own idea about China. Not so much with the US. Or idea sbout the US. But the Asians outside China are less inclined towards JG’s (mis)conception, so the peace-eqilibirum JG is looking for may be much less subservant to China than JG is. So his eqilibrium is skewed and a lot of his writing turns out to be more US-hostile that actually looking for explanations or eqilibriums.

      • Deldano says:

        Your problem is that the “preconception” you impute to Galtung is a shared preconception. Shared by many including myself. And the question is really: At what point does an empirically verified preconception become an intersubjective fact? How many people are needed for a preconception to become a political fact? And how does one stop such verified and verifiable preconceptions from becoming the preconception of a multitude? I think we know what you are doing here Mr. Reimer or whatever you’ve decided to call yourself this time around.

      • Deldano says:

        And you may be right about a couple of things actually. Galtung isn’t writing much about how other Asians perceive China’s presence. Actually I can’t recall him writing about that at all. But I will point out, that the fact that China is considered an increasingly disturbing hegemon by smaller players in the region, is not equivalent to falsifying Galtung’s point, that the USA is meddling in the region to exclude China’s expansion, at its own peril. Imperial overstrech much? I would love to see the US reaction to let us say, “China’s pivot to Latin America” with the exact same military and economic contents as TPP and the “US pivot to Asia”. Imagine that for a second. Now That! would be fun to behold. And speaking of Latin America as a comparative set of places as opposed to asian countries around China. How comfortable have Latin American polities been with the presence, interference and penetration of their poltiical systems and economic systems by U.S corporations and U.S interests in the past 200 years? Again, Galtung pointing out that US presence in south east asia is not constructive but rather disruptive for conflict resolution policies, specifically between the two Korea’s, is spot on and has nothing to nothing to do with the other, very different if even equally interesting question whether the countries in China’s periphery are blind to these disruptive moves being made by the USA. To put it precisely: Just because the chinese periphery does not like China’s rise to hegemony, which is a view that needs to be proven rather than just stated, doesn’t mean that this very periphery is blind to negative meddling by the US in the region, which historically is simply a given. Kissinger, Agent Orange, Napalm, Cambodia, Hiroshima just to name these trauma points only a fool would believe have been both forgotten and forgiven. Forgiven perhaps, which there is massive reason to doubt, forgotten never! And what is not forgotten may come back with a vengence as the saying goes. Just because they don’t like China, does not mean that they are ignorant of the harm the USA has done, is doing and can do.

  3. Paul Reimer says:

    Dear Mr Deldano

    I suspect you are writing to and about me. So let me clear up a few things for you.

    I have never stated that I love the US, nor anything to hint that I am “obtusely pro-american”. I do and am neither. Nor have I written that J Galtung “hates” the US. I don’t think that is the case.

    However I DO think, and reading J Galtung down the years only confirms this, that he always ends up using the most simple explanation fore everything. That “it” has be a problem created by the US, worsened by the US or in some other sinister way related to the US.

    Every single writing he offers. To an extend where is descends into (self-)parody.

    The neo-con line in the US is that “The Norks are to blame!”. J Galtung’s is the mirror image.

    • Deldano says:

      Regarding your “However I DO think, and reading J Galtung down the years only confirms this, that he always ends up using the most simple explanation fore everything.” view: William of Occham asked me to send you his greetings.

  4. Per-Stian says:

    It’s like clockwork. Whenever Galtung writes about anything remotely US-topiced, the trolls arrive. I’m sorry, but it’s difficult to put another name to this (almost) weekly occurrence. And I’m asking myself, like written recently, whether it’s the same person under different names, or whether there are multiple deluded souls (or indeed, whether it’s one of these people paid to write hogwash on ‘destabilising’ sites).

    Whatever is the case, it’s baffling how people can write such stuff about Galtung, claiming he is so one-sided, when he in article after article (and book after book I might add), is pointing out negatives and positives about the US and many other countries, entities and solutions. Or as he might say himself, the good in the bad and the bad in the good.

    Although the above article is just touching the surface, I found it interesting. It looks to solutions, which this conflict definitely needs. After such a long time, it’s obviously not an easy exercise, and there are faults on many sides (there are more than two), and some tentative steps are better than none.

    This will be going back to Chomsky, but the problem is that the US really does have a view of “We own the world”. It’s like a red thread through everything they do. And another problem is that people apparently accept their view, and react on that basis.

  5. Paul Reimer says:

    Dear Per-Stian

    I don’t know if you define disagreement as “trolling”. Or that you really believe people are paid to disagree with JG. If that is the case you are bound to run into quite a few shocks in your life…

    I have browséd through the editorials from JG, and I stick to my point. If you can point to a few of the editorial where he doesn’t end up with the “US Bad” repetitions, and I can point to 5 times as many where he does.

    • Deldano says:

      Paul, I actually have met a VERY learned man, who knows a lot about Galtung specifically for having been paid by a very important institution, unsurprisingly an american one, to conduct research on Galtung’s research in order to expound its weaknesses. His conclusion, Galtung’s research is sound and coherent but politically inopportune. So the criticism of his approach must be political, not scholarly. You’re not fooling anyone here.

  6. Poka Laenui says:

    Can we set aside personal attacks and turn to the very serious and worthy suggestions being made by Professor Galtung on this important matter? He makes three specific suggestions which I would like to hear from others over. they are:

    1. “There is the contested maritime zone between the two different maritime border: use it for joint fishing and joint fish breeding. Share the income 40-40-20; 20 for the ecology and administration.

    2. “There is no flight Seoul-Pyongyang: start it both ways. Use it also for the construction workers and personnel for two embassies.”

    3. Place these matters for oversight before the U.N. General Assembly and not before the Security Council.

    I thought all three proposals were excellent starting points for a refreshing approach to peace in the Korean situation. The joint fishing and fish breeding zones provides a context for cooperation between the two Koreas, an opportunity for the people of Korea to work on some common and mutually beneficial projects together. Just keep the U.S. out of this Korean family relationship, and let’s see what wonderful things may come about. The direct plan flights between North and South Korea is a second excellent idea worthy to be worked on. And to top it all off, place the matter outside of the dominating hands of the U.S.A. who has been able to manipulate this whole Korean business by its domination of the Security Council. Put it before the world thru the General Assembly.

    Poka Laenui

    • notlurking says:

      Very sensible starting points……

    • Per-Stian says:

      This is arguably the best and most fruitful post in here. Thank you.

      What people who truly read Galtung will know, is that he offers solutions, not just theoretical frameworks, or “diagnosis” and analysis. Here are more of them, at least a start. Something as simple as direct flights between the two countries would open up a channel, rather literally, which might lead to some illusions about “the other” breaking apart. More such thinking outside the box is needed, to reach that “Fifth Way”, and direct flights should be easy to implement in a timely fashion.

      I’m now tempted to break out those Transcend books again, some which lay out a wide range of solutions to a whole host of conflicts.

    • Markus says:

      The key here is to get the divide&conquer based Empire out of this corner of Asia, IF they want normal relations between their countries, that is. Same as in Latin America, and even the Middle East (which is more complicated, but still).

  7. Paul Reimer says:

    Dear Deldano

    Preconceptions shared by many or few are tested by reality and reality alone. The future will show how far JG’s preconceptions hold. I am willing to challenge JG’s preconceptions and predictions because the facts imho point the other way.

    • Deldano says:

      I repeat: Galtung’s research is sound and coherent but politically inopportune. So the criticism of his approach must be political, not scholarly. You’re not fooling anyone here.

    • Per-Stian says:

      What “facts” would this be then? That the US has been a force for good in the world?

      It would take an impressive exercise in willing blindness to ignore all those wars, terrorist attacks, coup d’etats and various other forms of aggression and subterfuge.

      As you sort of asked earlier, Galtung points out good things about the US many times. But he also focuses on what ‘bad’ things they do, and by God’s fury is there a lot to pick from.

      In short, you don’t get to Galtung’s position in the scholarly world by just spewing lies and half-truths.

      I really shouldn’t engage in these things. It is never fruitful, and usually a waste of time. Sorry to everybody. Not least to Galtung himself who once again (if he sees the published articles here) will have to endure long and ultimately pointless exercises in replying to falsehoods and strawmen.

      • Deldano says:

        And I would like to add to Mr. Reimer’s point: “The future will show how far JG’s preconceptions hold.” that a number of Galtung’s preconceptions have come to pass as reality in my very lifetime. Mr. Reimer maybe has not been reading Galtung for as long as we have. And also, he may be more interested in finding flaws in Galtung’s work than understanding why & how he gets the things right, which he gets right. He seems concerned with people overlooking that Galtung misses a shot every now and then and has a tendency to generalize “Galtung sometimes misses´the mark” to “Galtung always misses the mark”. The first view I know to be true, even without flinching. The latter I reject totally for having witnessed numerous occasions how prescient the man’s work has been over the decades. It’s like pointing out that Stephen Curry occasionally missed a long distance shot! So what? He’s still the best to have ever done it in that way.

  8. John Cabral says:

    Reimer’s words are difficult to incorporate but he should not be censored. Ignore him, acknowledging his questions, or answer him briefly, or provide lengthy responses. Don’t debate him. engage him in dialogue.

    John Cabral

  9. Deldano says:

    Thanks to Poka Laenui’s effort, I will now also make an effort to share on a weekly basis, what NEW things I learn from reading my weekly share of Galtung. By God! may this man and his mind have a long life. So, wait for it, coming.

    • Hans A. Johannesen says:

      The criticism of the US war and mass killings,as a thorn in the eyes of mr.Krog and it is nothing new.It seems like Mr.Kroogs mission, to derail the whole thing,and only go after Johan Galtung.But I wonder for all the time and focus Galtung get from Mr.Krog and I think,it does not matter and it is waste of time.Who spends money and time on nothing?There is an unspoken agenda?Which?It is up to Mr. Krog, to answer it.Meanwhile there are new names and profiles with completely identical text, identical and pro USA.But as Galtung itself refers, it is well to doJohan Galtung to a non person in Norway and it is probably the real agenda of Mr. Krog.

      • Internet Troll:

        A person, usually operating under a pseudonym, who posts deliberately provocative messages to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of provoking maximum disruption and argument. They are often paid by nefarious sources but sometime are motivated to do so for their own amusement. They often try to provoke dissension and doubt by writing dis-informational comments to the editor and/or other participants in a given discussion.

  10. Paul Reimer says:

    Dear All

    Sorry for the late reply, but reading the reactions, I understand that you prefer that we should not argue or discuss JG’s views?

    I think there are valid and exiting points, counter-points and counter-counter-points all around, but I’m not going to spend time if the impression and policy is that disagreeing with JG on even small points is tantamount to heresy.

    In this case i will bow out and leave.

    Greetings and godspeed to all./Paul