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U.S. Cooperative Existence and North Korea

November 24, 2010

Having been born in the aftermath of the Korean War (Conflict) it has been my experience to coexist in a world that is constantly reminded of the rift that remains between North Korea and South Korea, and which includes the United States due to our continued presence in the region.  Many people today have no first hand recollection of the late 1950’s, nor the Korean War.  As a point of departure for this essay is that the Korean War never has been resolved and fully concluded.  Rather, since 1953 the region has vacillated between a state of unstable peace and crisis, tipping periodically closer to war.  This is because there has never been a permanent peace agreement to the Korean War.  Since July 1953 unstable peace has been maintained under a temporary peace agreement calling for a U.S.-North Korea-Chinese cease-fire; which was not joined by South Korea.  As a result of failure of all parties to finalize a peace agreement and seek cooperative existence, civil interests, and needs of the people open wounds have continued to fester.  Meanwhile, the United States has continued to flex its powerful muscles globally.  Moreover, North Korea considers the U.S. to be in control of South Korea’s forces.  One argument of North Korea is that it remains subject to South Korean invasion since the South did not join the temporary cease-fire.   In this environment of unresolved issues, leaders on both sides of the war have continued to seek strategic recognition of the other, which has lead to cold and indirect discussions between the U.S. and North Korean governments.

Over the past half century North Korea has from time to time challenged the U.S. and threatened armed conflict.  The South, due to its proximity to the North has urged the U.S. to not provoke the anger of the North, which would almost certainly lead to armed retaliation.  To this end the North has played its card well. In 1994 President Kim expelled the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors.  When sanctions were threatened he responded with a promise to wipe out Seoul.  A resulting accord was reached with the intervention of non-governmental third party facilitators, of which past President Jimmy Carter played a major role.  Under this accord there was agreement for continued inspection for eight years.  However, these frictions have been exacerbated by official rhetoric such as including North Korea in the “axis of evil” proclaimed by past President George W. Bush. Other similar warnings from the North have been accompanied by offers to enter direct negotiations with the U.S. to resolve nuclear questions and reach a final peace agreement.  These offers have been extended by Kim as well as top North Korean officials in Pyongyang.  Continued unofficial talks between Jimmy Carter and others have yielded positive results and have confirmed that North Korea seeks direct and official talks with the U.S.  In 2005, negotiations reaffirmed the 1994 accord and called for a pledge of non-aggression by the U.S., a promise of denuclearization, and a promise to reach a permanent peace agreement to replace the temporary cease fire of July 1953.  Since that date we have not responded to the offer seeking direct talks to negotiate a final peace.  As any country, including our own, North Korea wants an end to the unstable peace which could at any time escalate to crisis or even war.  It is to our advantage to seek one also.  North Korea has stated in unofficial talks that it is ready to allow inspections and be part of a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.  However, without positive moves by the U.S. seeking direct negotiations, the North remains watchful and ready to defend their territory from a military attack supported by the U.S.

There is an old idiom by G. Pettie (1576); “strike when the iron is hot”.  This proverb originated in relation to the blacksmith’s metal work, however it means there is an optimum time to do a task, so work is most effective and efficient.  Hippocrates said; healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity.  The case of finalizing a permanent U.S.-North Korean-Chinese-South Korean peace is at hand.  The work to be done requires direct action by all the parties.  Governments, non-governmental agencies and negotiators, as well as the public need to put aside official positions of state and seek cooperation in establishing a program to assure human interests and needs for a final resolution.  At this time the iron is still hot.  We do not need to miss the opportunity.

Malcolm L. Rigsby is a faculty member in sociology at Ouachita Baptist University, completing his Ph.D. at Texas Woman’s University, Denton, Texas.  He holds his J.D. from St. Mary’s University School of Law and is a licensed attorney in Arkansas and Texas.

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