Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christine Ahn: "Resolving the Face-Off in Korea"

Another humane analysis, "Resolving the Face-Off in Korea" from Christine Ahn at Foreign Policy in Focus.

Like the Korean churches, Ahn compares the havoc resulting from the reckless brinksmanship played by world leaders to the violent trauma of the Korean War. Who's paying the price: innocent, ordinary civilians throughout the Korean peninsula, especially elder survivors of the war that has never ended:
On Monday, the Korean peninsula averted a cataclysmic showdown that could have escalated into full-blown war. The United Nations Security Council wasn’t able to conclude a statement that would defuse tensions, with countries lining up along Cold War divisions.

Seconds before I appeared on Al-Jazeera International Sunday night, the producer informed me that South Korea, despite pleas from both Russia and China to cancel the live fire artillery drills, had in fact started the exercises. Having been to North Korea several times, and knowing how their worldview centers on the right to defend their sovereignty, I feared the worst.

But by the time I returned home, the South Korean military drills were over. It lasted 94 minutes. North Korea, which had promised to retaliate with even more force than the November 23 shelling of Yeonpyeong island, decided that the South’s aggression was “not worth reacting” to...

An important Bloomberg story about the Northern Limit Line (NLL), which received very little play in the media, is key to understanding the root cause of the current crisis over the disputed waters in the West Sea. This area has been the site of multiple deadly naval clashes, which occurred in 1999, 2002, 2009, last March and November. The cycle of violence nearly ended on October 4, 2007 when then-South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il pledged to hold talks to "discuss ways of designating a joint fishing area in the West Sea to avoid accidental clashes and turning it into a peace area." According to Henry Em, Associate Professor of East Asian Studies at New York University, “The 2007 agreement was thrown out as part of the new government's strategy of getting tough with North Korea… [which] has been met with North Korea's get-tough policy toward South Korea, with tragic and dangerous consequences...”

Since it's unlikely that Lee Myung Bak will revive the 2007 agreement between North and South Korea, veteran Korea expert Selig Harrison proposed a solution in a New York Times op-ed last week: “The solution could be quite straightforward: the United States should redraw the disputed sea boundary, called the Northern Limit Line, moving it slightly to the south.” It’s that easy. And Harrison asserts that this is possible because “President Obama has the authority to redraw the line” as the United States is still the head of the United Nations Command for Korea. After consulting with Seoul and Pyongyang, the United States should get to work to not only redraw the line but also seriously move toward peace talks. This could be the first priority of the trilateral commission, if it were established.

As I remained fixed to my computer watching for developments and following Twitter feeds over the weekend, I couldn't help but feel both anxious and enraged. This ongoing game of brinkmanship played by our world leaders could have had horrific consequences. As I watched footage of elderly Koreans forced out of their homes and into bunkers, I imagined how traumatic it must have been, especially for the survivors of the Korean War.

Tragically, Koreans on the peninsula and in the diaspora must not only live with the painful memories of the Korean War, which claimed millions of lives and separated millions of families. We must also live with the hard truth that the Korean War is still not over 60 years later and the country remains divided. And all for what purpose and whose objectives? Certainly not for the security of the lives of ordinary Koreans, north and south.

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