The news of our conflict with North Korea seems to be inescapable. Every where you go people are discussing rising tensions and asking how concerned you are about the "threat." The news media is portraying this interaction between the US and North Korea like it is a new problem that we must all be aware of but I remember my elders talking about being veterans of the Korean War. Because I listened, I knew this conflict had been going on for a long time and was not a product of Trump's bantering as the news media boasts. I was determined to get to the bottom of what has been going on between our countries. Once you know the history of a situation you can better judge what the possible outcomes may be.
When you Google "North Korean Threat," Google displays the tops stories. The articles I found were packed with negative news about what this person or that person said and do very little to explain the underlying causes and possible solutions of the North Korean conflict. Their headlines boasted things like "Tillerson dials back rhetoric after Trump's North Korean "fire and fury" th..." I was not interested in another left vs. right battle about how incompetent Trump may be or how socially inept the leftists are. I didn't want to read about Trump and Kim in a school yard poo throwing contest. I wanted to know the reasons for this tension. How did our countries end up here, and what can be done to stop the nuclear missiles and help the people of both countries live more prosperous futures?
Moving on, I Googled "The North Korean Conflict" and the results, while maybe not as spectacularly headlined were very informative. Thank goodness for whoever developed Wikipedia. I know the information you get from them should always be fact checked as well but at least they are trying to teach people and they did a very good job of describing the history of this conflict. The average American under fifty years old probably has no idea what the Korean war was even about. The whole conflict is based on the division of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in the North and the Republic of Korea in the South. Both of which claim to govern the entire country. The division has not always been that way though.
Korea was invaded by both the Chinese and the Japanese in it's history. The Korean peninsula was annexed from the Japanese empire in 1910 but the governing groups in the country failed to make one united government. On August 9th of 1945, in the closing days of WWII, The Soviets declared war on Japan and marched into Korea. The allied forces agreed to this at the Yalta Conference but the United States was concerned about Soviet control of the entire peninsula. The US ordered the Soviets to stop their invasion at the 38th parallel north. The US would occupy the south and the Soviets would occupy the north.
Originally the US and the Soviets wanted to ensure there would be one united Korea but US and Soviet tensions rose as we entered the cold war period. Both sides favored rulers that reflected their goepolitical points of view and rivals to the chosen leaders were assassinated in both countries. Even before the Korean War happened there were pro-communism uprisings of the citizens in the south that were suppressed with extreme force and left over one hundred thousand dead.
Time pressed on and in 1950 North Korea's military was clearly superior over the south. They were armed and trained by the Soviets. They had battle tested troops returning from the Chinese Civil war. They had allies in the south they hoped would rise up in favor of communism and they were hopeful that the US would not intervene in a Korean Civil war. The west did not see it as simply a civil war. They saw it as a move to advance communism and a United Nations Force led by the US intervened to defend the south. The UN Forces had overwhelmed the north but as they neared the Chinese boarder, China saw it as a threat and joined in the war, pushing the UN forces back. The conflict ended on July 27, 1953 with the signing of an armistice that restored the original boundry.
That's an important word "Armistice." An armistice is a cease fire it is not a peace treaty. Technically we are still at war with North Korea right now. Even the original armistice was a delicate thing. The leader of the South, Syngman Rhee, opposed the treaty because it left the country divided. He never did sign it but he agreed to abide by it. It established the demilitarized zone at the 38th parallel.
When the Korean War ended, South Korea signed a defense treaty with the US and North Korea signed defense treaties with China and the USSR. North Korea promoted itself as a practitioner of orthodox Communism and adapted the doctrine of Juche or self reliance with extreme military mobilization. They made an extensive network of underground fallout facilities and even Pyongyang Metro can double as a fallout shelter should an enemy decide to go nuclear.
From 1960-1987 the conflicts between the north and south continued, manifesting in military staging, raids on either country and assassination attempts on the leaders of both countries. When the cold war finally ended, North Korea lost the support of the USSR and it was plunged into a state of economic crisis. Then, the North Korean leader Kim II-sung died. Collapse of North Korea seemed imminent and reunification finally possible. So, in 1998 South Korean President Kim Dae-jung initiated the "Sunshine Policy" to form better relations with North Korea but the US was still recovering from 9/11. President Bush declared that North Korea was an "axis of evil" and the Sunshine Policy was terminated.
In my opinion, Bush was not inaccurate on his labeling of this country as an evil. Some of the greatest human rights atrocities in the world are being carried out North Korea. If you are found guilty of a crime against the government a death sentence for yourself is the easy way out. Your family would carry the real burden by being sentenced to life in a concentration camp for three generations.
North Korea, rigid in their beliefs was left alone. Their culture of self-reliance and military might caused them to think of a new plan for survival, one that included nuclear capabilities at an intercontinental level. Fearful of the potential death count, both in North Korea and in South Korea from a North Korean counter attack, the United Nations and the United States have not bombed these nuclear facilities. North Korea announced nuclear capabilities in 2006 and military interaction has mostly been sea based from 1994-2013.
North Korea has always been very militarily active so what caused the increase in tensions. Contrary to popular belief it was not Donald Trump, although his brash methodology has been put in question. North Korea is now nuclear capable and possess ICBMs (Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles) they have been actively testing and perfecting this technology. What will they do with it is the question. This dedication to developing nuclear weapons has made many countries in the rest of the world uncomfortable, especially the US, their long standing adversary. North Korea's policy of communistic self sufficiency has already crippled the country in a global economic environment and the recent sanctions employed by the UN will only make life in North Korea all that more difficult.
South Korea has had it's own problems in the past year. Their leader was removed by the court and imprisoned on collusion charges. North Korea did its best to influence the outcome of the new vote and Moon Jae-in, a liberal human rights lawyer has been elected. He is rethinking the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system and would very much like to improve relations with North Korea.
Now that we know how this conflict started and its historic influences, the next logical question is what will happen next? The United States has a few options according to TheGlobeandMail.com. They state in their article, North Korea’s missiles: What’s happened so far, and what could happen next, that "Mr. Trump has played his hand – militarily, at least – as cautiously as his predecessors." His options appear to be limited. Economic sanctions have been in place for years and seem to have had little effect on this self reliant country. We've already been covertly operating with cyber attacks on their nuclear facilities that seem to be ineffective. Diplomatic relations between the US and the North are non-existent. Andrei Lankov, professor at Kookmin University, Seoul, and director of NK News said that, "There is a very little probability of conflict. But North Koreans are not interested in diplomacy: they want to get the ability to wipe out Chicago from the map first, and then they will be interested in diplomatic solutions. They will get such capability within a couple of years," in theguardian.com's article, North Korea v the US: how likely is war? The final option is military force. The article suggests that this could come in the form of a sea blockade, cruise missile strikes or a broader campaign to overthrow Kim.
China is trying desperately to avoid a conflict. They have called for renewed peace talks. The last ones ended in a stalemate in 2009. China has called for North Korean denuclearization. They forsee a conflict that will lead to thousands of Korean refugees seeking safety in China.
Will the sanctions and the international pressure work? As Andrei Lankov stated above, very few who study inter Korean relations believe they will. Kim Jong-un has watched other dictators like Qaddafi and Saddam Hussein be ousted and he hopes that possession of a nuclear weapon will lead to a different future for himself.
Jean Lee, Wilson Center fellow, former AP Pyongyang bureau chief, said that, "No one in the region, not even North Korea, wants another war. But Kim Jong-un is going to push it as far as he can to get what he wants: recognition from the United States that North Korea is a nuclear power, and legitimacy at home as a ruler who can defend his people against the big, bad US."
Furthering this opinion Jiyoung Song, senior lecturer in Korean studies, University of Melbourne said, "They will exchange some harsh words for a while and until Washington talks, secretly or publicly, with Pyongyang. Kim Jong-un will keep test-firing.
"There is no military solution to the North Korean problem. North Korea wants to be recognized as a legitimate nuclear state by the US and establish diplomatic relations with the US. Constantly reminding the world and especially the US of their nuclear and missile capabilities is part of their regime survival calculations. All options are on the table for Pyongyang, and North Korea did propose peace talks with the US a number of times to end the 1953 armistice and replace it with a peace treaty.
"What North Korea is also trying to do is to break the South Korea-US alliance and undermine the new South Korean president Moon Jae-in’s initiatives for improved inter-Korean relations. He’s proposed numerous talks with North Korea and Pyongyang has deliberately ignored Seoul’s good gestures. Kim Jong-un wants to talk directly with Trump, undermining Moon, but the US is reluctant to talk with North Korea unless Kim denuclearises or at least freezes its nuclear programmes."
There is no easy answer to the North Korean situation. This deep rooted belief in communistic principles, self reliance and military might has put them in a very sticky situation. Allowing such a volatile country possession of a nuclear weapon is a risky business but possession of it may legitimize the country on a world wide level. Making matters worse the media outlets in both countries are busy demonizing the opposing leader and emphasizing the foreign threat.