Rachael M. Rudolph
Most evident this summer from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit on June 10, 2018, the US-DPRK Summit on June 12, 2018, the China-Africa Security and Defense Forum on June 26-July 10, 2018, U.S. Secretary of State, Michael R. Pompeo’s remarks at the Indo-Pacific Business Forum on July 30, 2018, and the ASEAN Regional Forum on August 4, 2018 have been the on-going transformation of the geopolitical landscape, a convergence of shared ideas and challenges facing the global community, and the need for geostrategic, multidimensional, multilateral cooperation among international and regional actors.
An examination of the final declarations, speeches and press statements finds the actors having expressed their commitment to a multipolar, rules-based system based on the norms of mutual respect, sovereign equality, democracy, rule of law, transparency, non-interference, and freedom from economic coercion; the goals of world peace, stability and development; and, to work within the multilateral system and through regional initiatives to deal effectively with the challenges threatening the harmony between nations and their peoples. The salient challenges according to the frequency of the references made include the global economy, free trade and access to trading routes; ICT infrastructure development, security and prevention of its use by criminals; and, traditional and non-traditional security challenges including the aggravation of regional conflicts, terrorism, drug trafficking, transnational crime, infectious diseases, corruption and North Korea.
North Korea is central for regional and international stability due to the geostrategic significance of the region to global economy and the threat posed by nuclear proliferation to peace, stability and development. Peace, therefore, depends on all actors working together on a common set of objectives to transform the conflict environment in the Korean Peninsula. Denuclearization is just one of several issues which are needed to be addressed. There are other issues such as economic development, reform and sanctions; humanitarian and security concerns for regional and domestic actors; regional and global integration of North Korea; and, domestic limitations within North Korea and the United States. Arguably, the domestic limitations hinder discussions on some of the sub-issues of these issues, exacerbate tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, contribute to the frustrations expressed by policymakers from the two countries during the ASEAN Regional Forum on August 4, 2018, and narrowing of the window of opportunity opened at the U.S.-DPRK Summit in Singapore on June 12, 2018 for facilitating a peace regime.
Transforming the Conflict Environment to Facilitate a Peace Regime
At the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), denuclearization was the main topic of discussion among the participants. The U.S. expressed concern over what appeared to be an easing of sanctions by some members of the international community and sought assurances from the ARF participants that they would continue to enforce sanctions on North Korea. North Korea, on the other hand, criticized the failure to ease sanctions and said the U.S. must continue to uphold what was agreed upon at the U.S.-DPRK summit in Singapore on June 12, 2018.
At the summit on June 12, 2018, the U.S. and North Korea agreed to four steps, namely establishing a new relationship; building a lasting and stable peace regime; working toward denuclearization; and returning of the remains of the U.S. soldiers from the Korean War. The U.S. emphasis on the latter two was a point of contention for North Korea. Arguably, emphasis on the latter two is sensical considering the U.S. domestic policy environment and the limitations imposed by U.S. domestic legislation, both of which hinder any concrete, short-term policy initiatives which would satisfy North Korea on the first two points.
North Korea wants an easing of economic sanctions and either a peace treaty or a formal declaration that ends the Korea War. First, an easing of U.S. sanctions is not something which the U.S. congress would endorse at this time nor would it support any formal peace agreement without further actions being undertaken in the area of human rights. The U.S. will not raise the human rights issue with North Korea at this time because of it wanting to continue with negotiations on what was agreed upon at the U.S.-DPRK Summit. However, realistically speaking, there must be some sort of discussion with North Korea by either one of its allies or the international community on the human rights issue and its sub-issues. There are points of convergence between North Korea’s discourse on human rights and that of the U.S. which could lay the foundation for agreement on dialogue on the issue and sub-issues and limits the chances of diminishing the political will that exists in both countries at the moment. Second, any formal peace agreement must be presented to and accepted by the U.S. Congress in order for it not to fail at the point of implementation. Again, the human rights issue and its sub-issues will be the sticking point. The U.S. would like nothing more than to have a peace on the Korean Peninsula, but North Korea must keep in mind there are domestic constraints to the types of policy initiatives it can engage on in the short-term with respect the first two points.
Easing of Economic Sanctions and a Peace Regime
Given the aforementioned, some creative thinking is needed on how regional and global actors might assist to facilitate an environment that is conducive for the easing of economic sanctions and the creation of a peace regime. An easing of economic sanctions is needed more than simply for humanitarian concerns. It is also needed so that the North Korean government can implement its strategy for comprehensive economic reform. Economic reform is, as the reports by the U.N., human rights organizations, the U.S. government and academic studies suggest, necessary for the North Korean government to address the underlying factors contributing to many of the sub-issues of the human rights issue.
Both economic reform and an easing of sanctions are also needed for the full integration of North Korea into the regional and global community. Arguably, regional integration must come before, yet while simultaneously working toward, North Korea’s integration into the global community. Regional economic integration reduces the perceived threat of North Korea to the region’s peace, stability and development and contributes to confidence-building. Regional confidence-building measures are needed for there to be change in the dynamics of the political relations between North Korea and the regional states. North Korea behaving as a responsible regional political actor will do a long way in changing regional dynamics. A change in the relational dynamics will reinforce the efforts undertaken at the global level toward integration. Global integration of North Korea will ultimately be what reinforces a peace regime.
A stable, peace regime in the Korean Peninsula is not per se depend on the U.S. The U.S. can only operate in the region with the consent of regional actors. Therefore, North Korea needs to ponder how it might engage regional actors both bilaterally and multilaterally and the types of confidence-building measures it can engage in to help overcome the anxiety and fear many of them have over the many years of either its government reneging on what was agreed upon or engaging in provocative actions to express displeasure at US, the ROK or the UN actions.
Denuclearization will not bring about a peace regime, so, yes, North Korea is right that there is too much focus on that point, but it is wrong to criticize the U.S. for not focusing more on the other two points. North Korea needs to take into consideration the U.S. domestic policy environment just as it does its own when contemplating how far it can go in negotiations on the complex set of issues corresponding to the changing relationship between the two countries and building a lasting and stable peace regime. Similarly, the U.S. needs to take into consideration the North Korean policy environment when criticizing or doubting North Korea’s progress. North Korea must also think outside the box by engaging in dialogue with regional actors rather than waiting for or expecting the U.S. policymaking community (U.S. Congress in particular) to accept its sincerity.
The U.S. government is sincere; however, there are many within the large U.S. policymaking community who think otherwise. Similarly, the U.S. must realize that some within the North Korean policymaking community doubt its sincerity. Both actors must realize that they alone cannot implement the four points. Regional actors are key for helping to facilitate the conditions needed to induce support within the U.S. policymaking community for a change in the nature of the relationship between the two countries while the international community is key for facilitating the conditions needed for a stable, peace regime. They are both able to engage North Korea on the complex set of issues which the U.S. cannot at this point because of the nature of the U.S. domestic policy environment.
To conclude, many of the underlying challenges highlighted by global community in the events cited at the start of this article underlie the sub-issues of the human rights issue in North Korea, if the human rights discourse is reframed within the context of the non-traditional security issue discourse. Those issues, therefore, provide a foundation for which the international community through the multilateral system and regional initiatives can engage in dialogue with North Korea. New and creative initiatives to facilitate regional and global environments that are conducive to enabling a stable peace regime in the Korean Peninsula require something different from traditional multilateral diplomacy; and, to bring that about, there needs to be more discussion within the media and the global community on the complex set of issues underlying the four points which were agreed upon at the U.S.-DPRK summit. Rather than focusing so much attention on denuclearization and whether peace is possible, the global community should be contemplating more on how to break open pandora’s box. The impossible can only be made possible through concerted, multilateral creative action.
In US sensitivity to and understanding of Turkish society, nothing has changed over the past 5 years
Rachael M. Rudolph joins Bryant Zhuhai as an Assistant Professor of Social Science in the fall term. Her research focuses on Sino-American relations, US-North Korean relations, strategic security in the Asia Pacific region, and transnational crime. She can be reached at: [email protected] M. Rudolph
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