Korean peninsula at a diplomatic crossroads

Building an effective crisis management mechanism and channels of communication will hopefully minimise the chances of military escalation

The nuclear crisis in Korean Peninsula in recent weeks has triggered many responses, such as the use of force and retaliation by the US. The United Nations imposed a number of sanctions on trade items, and import-export in North Korea. Japan banned remittances and confiscated assets of North Koreans in their area. South Korea banned North Korean ships from South Korean territorial waters, suspending inter-Korean trade except at the Kaesong Industrial Zone and banning most cultural exchanges. Most of the discussions proposing a solution to the crisis suggested that Pyongyang should give up its nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, this objective was made more difficult to achieve with every new North Korean (DPRK) missile and nuclear test. Hence, the sustained conflicting engagement between North Korea, United States, China, South Korea, and Japan remained a complex diplomatic challenge.

A ray of hope appeared in the tense situation when on New Year’s Day, North Korea’s Leader Kim Jong-Un announced in his speech that his country will seek participation in the 2018 Winter Olympics scheduled to be held in South Korea between 9-25 February2018. He also used the term ‘year of reconciliation’ for 2018.

South Korea responded positively to Kim Jong-Un‘s diplomatic initiative. The rare meetings are expected to begin on Tuesday, 9 January 2018 in a village named Panmunjom, that connects the demilitarised zone between the two countries. Both North and South Korea have agreed to discuss cooperation on the games and are hoping to discuss other issues as well. Among international concerns over Pyongyang’s missile systems and nuclear programme, the talks will be the first to materialise since December 2015.

The expressed interest in re-opening channels of dialogue between North Korea with South Korea, is a small step towards defusing tensions in the Korean Peninsula and lowering the temperature between the US and North Korea raised earlier by threats and counter threats emanating from Pyongyang and Washington.

The expressed interest in re-opening channels of dialogue between North and South Korea is a small step towards defusing tensions in the Peninsula, and lowering the temperature between the US and North Korea

The Korean Peninsula region was threatened by the forcibility of a catastrophic nuclear exchange. The probability for which had risen considerably since Donald Trump became the US president. The situation was worsening day-by-day with fiery rhetoric between the two sides.

The opening of diplomatic communications will help in transforming the strategic environment making it slightly more conducive to finding a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

Earlier the spectrum of proposals in regard to the North Korean crisis ranged from the use of force against Pyongyang to the idea of regime change in North Korea. All these proposals were pointing and going in the wrong direction. Such statements had contributed to rising of tensions. Professor Scott Sagan stated that the current clash with North Korea was more dangerous than the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, during which the world had witnessed some moments on the brink of nuclear war. He also suggested a policy of containment and deterrence vis-à-vis North Korea, similar to US strategy during the Cold War.

Building an effective crisis management mechanism and channels of communication will hopefully minimise the chances of military escalation. Additionally, the opening of negotiations and participation in the Olympics offered by North Korea should be utilised to create a niche for implementing some confidence-building measures (CBMs) to reduce Pyongyang’s insecurity and mistrust of its adversaries.

The writer is a Research Fellow at Centre for International Strategic Studies Islamabad and a former Nuclear Nonproliferation Fellow Monterey California, USA

Published in Daily Times, January 12th 2018.