The crisis on the Korean peninsula: background and issues

Sang Youl Sohn

Many people think that the crisis on the Korean peninsula started in the wake of North Korea's nuclear development. However, contrary to what is commonly known, it is right to think that the crisis initiated from the aggressive nuclear and military policies made by the US, and military approach to this by North Korea made the crisis more complicated.

It was around October 2002 when the nuclear issue came out in the Korean peninsular. At that time, the US special convoy to North Korea raised a suspicion about the nuclear development program when visiting the state. He announced that the north admitted the suspicion and the current crisis began. However, the US has never shown any solid proof about North Korea's nuclear development so far. Then, why, at this point of time, does the US want to create trouble with North Korea by raising the groundless suspicion?


In order to understand the origin of the nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsula, above all, a closer look has to be taken at US nuclear policy. The US had established plans to actually use nuclear weapons on the peninsular since the Korean War, and deployed nuclear weapons in and around the peninsula. According to an estimation, it is known that about 700 nuclear weapons were deployed in South Korea during the 1970-80's.

The end of the cold war in the 90's brought a change on the Korean peninsula. The US deployed nuclear weapons on the peninsula started to be taken away. In 1991, 'the Declaration of Nuclear-Free Korean Peninsula' was adopted by the agreement of the two Korean governments. In 1992, North Korea concluded the safeguard agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency(IAEA), and as a following step, an IAEA's nuclear investigation to North Korea was launched. However, a serious tensions arose between North Korea and the US over the issue of the scope and level of the nuclear investigation in the Fall of 1992. Under these circumstances, the US carried out the Team Spirit exercise (a joint military operation exercise between South Korea and the US), which had been canceled in the 90's. In protesting the exercise, North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). After the withdrawal the situation became worse and aggravated into a war between the two states. The Agreed Framework (Geneva Agreement) was signed in 1994. There were three major agreements:

North Korea would freeze nuclear facilities, both parties would move toward full normalisation of relations, and the US would provide North Korea with two light water reactors to solve electricity problems.

However, the US violated the Geneva agreement. Light water reactors were to be completed by 2003, but the construction was intentionally delayed. The promise of normalisation of relations was not kept. Above all, the US was supposed to guarantee North Korea not to use nuclear weapon against Pyongyang, but instead it continued to give military threats to North Korea. After 9/11 the Bush administration took a stronger position on the small country. Bush named North Korea as part of the axis of evil and said a pre-emptive attack against North Korea could possibly be made. The Bush administration even openly mentioned a regime change in North Korea.

In conclusion, the reason that the US raise groundless suspicions to instigate friction with North Korea at this time is the following: by raising a new suspicion on North Korea's nuclear development, the US would not have to deal with the criticism that they put aside the responsibility of fulfilling the Geneva agreements and the US claims that North Korea is responsible for unfulfilled agreements. Another reason is to realise more US interests on the Korean peninsula and East Asia. Mention about nuclear development is on the way, the North Korean administration took strong steps toward the US due to this security threat. However, it is clear that the militaristic approach by North Korea is also very dangerous.

Latest situation

Recently, there are many people who say that the US foreign policy toward North Korea put more emphasis on compromise and multilateralism, than faceoff and unilateralism. What they probably have in mind is the 6-party talks (South Korea, North Korea, the US, China, Japan and Russia), which opened in Beijing in August.

However, the real reason that the US participates in a mulitilateral framework such as the 6-party talks is to bring about aid from surrounding countries and put pressure on North Korea. Simultaneous solutions of nuclear issues and a security assurance for the North Korean society - a new and sincere approach to the problem - was presented through the 6-party talks. However, the US made no concession about its position. North Korea must give up its nuclear program first, and then the US will promise security for North Korea. What makes the matter worse is that the US continues to put military pressure on North Korea, which might incite the county. As soon as the 6-party talks ended, the US held the Prolifersation Security Initiative (PSI) conference in France in early September. 11 participants in the conference decided to have a joint military practice in mid-September. The PSI is a plan to strengthen searching and seizing of boats of the countries labeled as 'Axis of Evil' by the US. It is a well-known fact that North Korea was the target. The US also had the Stryker Brigade field drill, an exercise for faster military deployment, in South Korea over the last few months. A operation plan called 'O-plan' 5030 was recently opened to the public. This is a plot to induce to dismantle the North Korean system by tiring its military power.

Moreover, the US is bolstering up militarism in northeast Asia, finding an excuse in suspicious nuclear development by North Korea. This materialises in the form of a strengthened military alliance among South Korea, Japan and the US. As a result of this, Japan is expanding the scope of its Defence Forces, and trying to amend the peace constitution. South Korea is increasing the military budget by a large margin. Recently it is confirmed through media reports that South Korea is the second biggest military weapon import country. The Missile Defence system in northeast Asia strengthens the status of military alliance among the 3 countries in the region.

People's security

The crisis in the Korean peninsula will intensify unless the US foreign policy toward northeast Asia changes. People in both North and South Korea live in pain because of the crisis. Even if this crisis gets solved through the framework of the 6-party talks, it does not mean that people's security and peace is assured. People's grassroots campaigns and international solidarity to oppose war is the most secure way of making peace in northeast Asia.

Sang Youl Sohn works with Solidarity for Peace & Human Rights in South Korea
Translated by Dopehead Zo (WRI Korea)