Kim Jong Un desperately wants a meeting with the United States, but the latest attempt at Track 1.5 talks were derailed when the lead interlocutor for Pyongyang was denied a visa last month. Although what exactly was to be discussed remains unknown, many observers of North Korea recognize that Pyongyang’s long-time desire is to negotiate a peace treaty with Washington.
Kim Jong Un wants the same thing as his grandfather and father before him. There has been no change in that, for it is via a peace treaty ending the Korean War that his reign will finally and ultimately be secure. But that does not mean what you might think.
THE NATION PYONGYANG FEARS
The road block to reunification under North Korea’s auspices is the U.S. After all, it was the Americans, along with other allies of the West under the flag of the United Nations, that stopped Pyongyang’s first attempt at taking over South Korea during the Korean War. And it has been the massive number of U.S. troops on the Korean Peninsula since then that has discouraged the North from another such effort.
Moreover, the joint exercises held annually by Seoul and Washington have, in recent years, been openly discussed to let Pyongyang know what it faces.
Setting aside the recklessness of divulging one’s battle plans, all the talk of pre-emptive strikes in addition to the exercises that include “decapitation” activities do nothing if not reinforce Kim Jong Un’s concerns about U.S. intentions toward his regime.
The road block to reunification under North Korea’s auspices is the U.S.
One might be tempted to conclude that these joint exercises are the motivation behind Kim Jong Un’s mentioning a peace treaty with the U.S. so often in recent years. That would be wrong.
If the West were to negotiate a peace treaty with North Korea to end the Korean War, which technically is only on pause by an armistice, several things would have to occur either as preconditions to, or shortly after, concluding such a deal.
THE ROAD TO DISASTER
Paramount in Pyongyang’s eyes would be the removal of all U.S. troops and their war machine. The justification for this condition would be that foreign troops and their equipment would no longer be needed in a South Korea at peace with the North. By acceding to that, however, South Korea would be weakened, possibly enough to diminish its deterrence.
The ultimate goal remains one Korea ruled by the Kim Dynasty
Additionally, a large standing military is an unjustified expense when hostilities are not in the offing, and already there is talk among some in Seoul for a smaller volunteer force, the Korean version of a “peace dividend.”
In a PIIE article quoting Zang Hyoungsoo of Seoul’s Hanyang University, liberal politicians – possibly coming to power in the next South Korean election – might even suggest in all seriousness that the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between the North and the South be dismantled!
However, even without eliminating the DMZ, the stage would still be set for the next act of a tragedy that could unfold. Just as raiders strike when it is advantageous, with South Korea weakened by the euphoria of a peace treaty, there might be an attack from North Korea in an attempt to reunify the peninsula militarily.
Perhaps such an attack would fail, and South Korea would be able to delay Pyongyang overrunning the entire peninsula long enough so that other nations could rush to save the day in a Second Korean War. Even then, however, South Korea would have already suffered grievous damage and horrific loss of life.
But let’s consider an equally plausible outcome, that the Kim regime realizes the value of keeping South Korea infrastructure and industry intact and thus shuns reunification by force to spare the destruction. The next step, should liberal political conditions exist in the South, would be for the North to suggest establishing a Korean Confederation with the eventual goal of reunification as one Korea.
Sound preposterous? That idea has already been discussed in a number of reunification scenarios. As far back as 1972, Pyongyang and Seoul issued a Joint Communique regarding efforts toward unification.
However, next consider a Wilson Center Digital Archive document showing that in a 1973 conversation with Todor Zhivkov, then First Secretary of the Bulgarian Communist Party, North Korean leader Kim Il Sung ominously declared: “If they listen to us, and a confederation is established, South Korea will be done with.”
Nothing has changed since. The ultimate goal remains one Korea ruled by the Kim Dynasty. What remains unknown is how and when Kim Jong Un would attempt to achieve that.
There is an adage about never playing another man’s game. Pyongyang has a long history of not honoring commitments, but Washington seems incapable of remembering that.
Further, the U.S. apparently does not know how to react when North Korea fails to honor its commitments. As Sun Tzu stated, “If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
To sum things up, Sun Tzu understood that all warfare is deception. A vulnerable South Korea enabled the North’s attack to start the first Korean War. Now recall another adage: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”
Pyongyang holds the cards, and Washington would be well-advised to not play its game. We cannot afford to be fools on this: No peace treaty.
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Featured Image: North Korea - Arirang by Roman Harak on 2010-09-04 13:05:52