As tensions have been mounting on the Korean Peninsula for the past three months, the international community has become more worried about possible military conflicts between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the United States, the Republic of Korea, which would be a huge calamity for the whole of northeast Asia. However, the current crisis could be turned into an opportunity for a fundamental solution if the US and the DPRK — as well as the ROK, China and all other parties involved — are truly determined to make lasting peace on the Peninsula by applying a long-term strategic vision.
First, a resolution is well overdue. 60 years have passed since the Korean War Armistice Agreement was signed. A peace accord is nowhere in sight; the two Koreas are still technically at war. The US and the ROK see the continuing progress in the DPRK’s nuclear and missile programs as a growing threat to their security. The Trump administration is eager to find a new approach by declaring that the era of “strategic patience” of the US and its allies is over. Washington has added urgency to resolving the nuclear and missile issue of the DPRK after experts estimated that by 2020 the DPRK may be able to affix miniaturized nuclear warheads onto long-range ballistic missiles capable of reaching the mainland of the US.
Second, encouraging the DPRK to return to the negotiating table is a key link. So far, the DPRK remains defiant as the US keeps increasing military pressure and economic sanctions, and bellicose rhetoric from Pyongyang against the US military actions is a daily routine. Common sense tells us that in order to convince the DPRK to stop all its hard-line rhetoric and nuclear and missile activities, it is indispensable to provide certain sense of peace and security by stopping all military actions in the nearby region by the US and ROK. As the only superpower in the world, the US needs to be gracious enough to play a leadership role in calming the DPRK and reducing tensions there. In a first positive step, the US has refrained from sending the much-ancipated three aircraft carrier strike groups in the waters surrounding the Peninsula. The DPRK needs to be convinced that the nuclear and missile activities conducted in violation of the relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions can only damage its security and national interests instead of safeguarding them. Furthermore, the international community needs to do more to explain to the DPRK why it should observe the rules of the international non-proliferation regime and relevant UN Security Council resolutions. As the DPRK insists that it is a country that already has nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, reasons should be given why its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles are illegal and should be forsaken. Considering the prolonged extreme difficulties of the issue, all other options should be put on the table except the unilateral use of military force.
Third, every party involved should make sure there are no unilateral surprise military attacks on one another. For the US, it needs to understand clearly that the DPRK is not Syria, and that any limited unilateral military assault on the DPRK would arouse counter attacks by the DPRK, and that a large-scale war would be hardly avoidable. For the DPRK, it needs to see that risks are high when it launches any reckless military attacks on the US and its allies, and that counter attacks with overwhelming force by the US and its allies would be inevitable. It is crystal clear that military conflict is in the interest of no one.
Fourth, the current crisis on the Korean Peninsula is not isolated. The prolonged confrontation between the DPRK and the US/ ROK has deeper causes, involving the legacy of the Korean War over 60 years ago, and the differences between the East and West. Within the East, evolution of the relations among the DPRK, China and Russia should be taken into account when assessing the Korean crisis. In the meantime, within the West, differences in the interests and strategies of the US, the ROK, and Japan remain an important factor in the changes of relationship between the DPRK and the ROK. The fact that the Korean crisis involves so many inter-related factors sheds some light on the complexity and difficulties of the Korean nuclear and missile issue. To find a fundamental solution to the current crisis, it requires a set of fresh eyes by taking into account all related factors.
Fifth, the upgrade of cooperation between China and the US is essential. Before the Nixon visit to China in 1972, China and the US fought against each other in Korea. After the Nixon visit, the two countries have made great efforts to promote peace and denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula. But to everyone’s regret, the nuclear and missile issue has so far not been resolved, and in fact is becoming worse. It is hard to deny that the lack of enough strategic trust between China and the US is a factor that has contributed to the current undesired situation. Lack of comprehensive review of Sino-U.S. relations in the fundamental solution of the Korean nuclear and missile issue is another. Therefore, it is high time for the two countries to further strengthen political trust and upgrade bilateral relations in the security, diplomatic, economic and trade areas with a long-term goal to make lasting peace on the Korean peninsula by delimiting all areas where the two countries can have positive interactions.