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North Korea developments

'North Korea: It's Dangerous To Play with Fire' (Statement from the Federation of Social Defence, Germany)

Minden, 5 April 2013

The conflict of the Korean Peninsula is currently met with a measure of realpolitic, alongside the old approach of deterrence. But the price of failure is too high. Therefore, it is time to take steps towards sustainable understanding and reconciliation.

North Korea tests a long-range missile and for the third time conducts a nuclear test. The United Nations tighten their sanctions. Following a well-known pattern, there is a joint US-South Korean military drill, beginning on 12th March, with around 40,000 soldiers. North Korea - remembering feeling threatened by similar military exercises on previous occasions - declare the 1953 armistice agreement void, shut off the military hotline with South Korea, announce a state of war and that it will expand and beef up its nuclear armed forces qualitatively and quantitatively - including the resumption of plutonium enrichment. South Korea responds with a harsh warning. The US fly more weapons into the region (F22-fighter jets, two stealth bomber and two B-52 nuclear-capable bombers, and, according to CNN reports, a destroyer loaded with rockets).

With all that, is there no reason to worry? Representatives from western governments, as well as President Obama's spokesman, emphasize: There are no signs of North Korea planning an attack, it is just the usual rhetoric as a reaction to the latest sanctions of the UN. In Security Council Resolution 2094, the UN had reacted to the test of a long-range missile on the 12th December 2012, and the nuclear test on the 12th February 2013 with new, mainly financial, sanction and the empowerment of all states to search North Korean ships for illegal weapons and equipment. Some journalists suppose that with its actions North Korea tried to get the US back to the negotiating table. There had been threats before. The new premier Kim Jong-un , insecure in his position, is trying to increase his power by employing bellicose rhetoric. North Korean nuclear abilities are still very limited and Pyongyang knows a nuclear attack would mean the elimination of their own country.

Let’s hope these assurances are right. But are they enough? With the US, North Korea and China we find three opposing nuclear powers and we know from the Cold War how little it takes to “accidentally” start a war. As long as there are nuclear weapons, there is the danger of them being used. Peace and conflict studies have shown how the dynamics of escalation can become independent until neither side can back down without loosing face. Under these circumstances, to rely on a very young and inexperienced sovereign of North Korea acting rationally and according to the logic of deterrence awakens bad memories of the thinking that marked the appeasement policy of a former time.

We need to remember that there had been deaths also after the end of the Korean war 1953, which had killed almost two million people, the latest in 2010: On the 26th of March a South Korean warship was hit by a North Korean torpedo leaving 46 sailors dead. In the same year, on the 23rd November, North Korean troops launched an artillery strike on South Korea's Yeonpyeong Island, and 4 people were killed. There was a direct chronological connection with a South Korean military exercise.

The conflict of the Korean Peninsula is currently met with a measure of realpolitic, alongside the old approach of deterrence. But the price of failure is too high - in Korea now, just as it was in Europe until 1989.

For these reasons we call upon the affected governments - especially South Korea, North Korea and the United States - to leave this dangerous and probably fatal course of deterrence, and to take steps towards sustainable understanding and reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula. This includes initially:

  • An immediate cessation of joint military manoeuvres with the US.
  • A reduction of troops and military equipment by the US in the region, to send a clear signal that war is not intended.
  • Diplomatic efforts involving countries and forces North Korea regards as friends (mainly China, but also states of the non-aligned movement) in order to encourage North Korea to resume international talks about their nuclear program, and to prepare negotiations that aim at a peace agreement.

We ask the German government to advocate with its allies - especially the US, but also through diplomatic channels such as the United Nations - to work with South and North Korea for a de-escalating policy that is based on a logic of peace.

We offer the civil society, especially the peace groups in South Korea, our solidarity and support. We also offer to share with them the possibilities of alternative and non-violent defense (“social defence”) that we have worked out as alternative to deterrence and military defence.

Christine Schweitzer
(Executive Secretary)