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Continuing the Korean war
or seek peace now?

Gunnar Westberg, Sweden, TFF Board member*

Written November 30, posted December 1, 2010

To understand what is going on in Korea it is helpful to try to see the conflict from the other side, from that of North Korea.

There is no peace agreement after the Korean War, which ended in 1953 with an armistice agreement. There is still a state of war between the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, DPRK, and the United States. The Armistice Demarcation Line is the 38th parallel. However, no agreement has been reached regarding where that line continues in the sea. The sovereignty of the waters where the recent shelling occurred is disputed.

As I write this article, on November 30, 2010, marine forces from South Korea together with US units are conducting a military maneuvre in these disputed waters. Such operations have in the past often been opposed by the North. When shots were fired from the South as a part of that exercise, the North demanded that the fire should stop and when the shooting continued the North started to shell the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong.

A reaction from DPRK was to be expected but it was not expected that North Korea should shell an island with civilian inhabitants. It is entirely possible that internal rivalry in DPRK played a role. The newly designated heir to the dictator may have wanted to show that he is now in command. Speculations by Pyongyangologists abound.

The question which is not asked from our side is: What was the purpose behind holding a provocative military exercise in this disputed area? No explanation has been offered from ROK - Republic of Korea, South Korea - or the US.

We understand little of the political situation in DPRK. Our ignorance should increase our caution. It should be kept in mind that military leaders in that country are even more ignorant of the world around them. Diplomats from DPRK are worried that the generals believe that they can win a war with the South and even successfully attack US bases in Japan.

A war with the South or a civil war inside DPRK would be a disaster for both North Korea and its neighbors. A rebellion by the starving and oppressed population would result in millions of refugees and serious problems for ROK and China.

The recent report from Amnesty International tells a story of rapidly deteriorating health in DPRK. Food supply is irregular. Corruption is increasing. The health care is deteriorating, medicines are not available. Apartments and houses are cold in the wintertime because of the lack of oil and coal. The old and the children in the many child care institutions for are in danger of succumbing from deprivation and cold.

Because of these arguments, I plead:

From DPRK that the policy of “Military first” is changed to “Human security first”.
From ROK and the US that provocations directed against the DPRK should be avoided. From the affluent nations in the world, that humanitarian and especially medical help and food should be offered, disregarding the actions of the DPRK leadership.
And, most importantly, that peace negotiations should begin, now almost sixty years after the war.

Regarding this last point I would like to quote from the November 23 article in Washington Post by former president Jimmy Carter who has made several visits to DPRK:

"Pyongyang has sent a consistent message that during direct talks with the United States, it is ready to conclude an agreement to end its nuclear programs, put them all under IAEA inspection and conclude a permanent peace treaty to replace the "temporary" cease-fire of 1953. We should consider responding to this offer. The unfortunate alternative is for North Koreans to take whatever actions they consider necessary to defend themselves from what they claim to fear most: a military attack supported by the United States, along with efforts to change the political regime."


Should not peace talks between the United States and DPRK be tried, instead of provocative military maneuvres?

Gunnar Westberg

* Board member of TFF & past President of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. The author is a retired professor of medicine from Gothenburg, Sweden. He visited North Korea in 2005 and maintains contacts in that country.


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