The term, "Christ-Buddha path to Korean unity" refers to the need for the North Korean leadership to show the wisdom of Lord Buddha and for the South Korean side to exhibit the compassion of Jesus Christ. The window for a peaceful unification of an ancient country will close within four years, as by that time, the North Korean Leadership (NKL) would have succeeded in weaponising its nuclear devices and delivery systems sufficient to devastate both Japan and South Korea, a risk impossible to consider, much less accept. Given the immunity that crossing such a nuclear threshold would give the NKL, it would be reasonable to infer that it would seek concessions from the South Korean Leadership (SKL) through baiting it with provocative actions that would impact the business environment in South Korea and therefore the wellbeing of the population of that democratic corner of the globe. Whether it be the NKL or cancer, delay is not an option if the prognosis over a time period below five years is dire. There are, of course, examples of countries that failed to move against their strategic “cancers” in time and paid a price many magnitudes higher than what timely action would have caused. The refusal of France to clear the Rhineland of German troops during March 1936 was the trigger which gave Chancellor Adolf Hitler the confidence that he could occupy large swathes of territory across his borders without provoking a conflict with France or the United Kingdom. Allowing North Korea to operationalize a nuclear attack system capable of inflicting simultaneous and unacceptable harm on Japan and South Korea would be a “Rhineland moment” in East Asia, given that the Kim Jong Un regime is in its own way as much controlled by a single individual not certifiable as wholly rational as Germany was during 1933–45. Because (i) some of the finest scientific talent in the country was literally destroyed through the Holocaust and its initial symptoms (such as the removal of Jews from positions in academia, business and government) and (ii) the National Socialist German Workers Party Fuehrer did not understand the significance of the atom as a weapon of war, thereby causing a slowdown of research into the possibility as compared to the US, the 1939–45 war ended without the multiplication of mass casualties that would have resulted from NSDAP Germany’s operationalizing its nuclear weapons. Unfortunately for stability in East Asia, Kim JongUn is fully cognizant of the fact that only nuclear capability stands between him and the fate of Saddam Hussein or Muammar Gaddafi, two despots who were defeated and killed after giving up their Weapons of Mass Destruction stockpiles to the very powers that ended their careers and subsequently their lives.
Given the history of regimes that voluntarily surrendered their WMD stockpiles, there will need to be a global effort to ensure that the North Korean Leadership (NKL) is confident that their own top echelon will not meet the fate of their counterparts in Iraq and Libya. A precondition for such confidence will need to be a United Nations Security Council resolution that has been endorsed by each of the five UNSC Permanent Members, especially the United States. Hence the need for Washington to show a degree of compassion that brings to memory the inexhaustible capacity for forgiveness of Christ, who forgave even Peter despite the latter repudiating him thrice before the dawn. While Korean unity is a matter for the people of that (presently divided) country, it can come about only in the context of the underwriting of the conditions set for union by the major powers, so as to obviate the worry about another Iraq or Libya moment, where elements of the global community turn on the NKL even after the union of the two sides. Hundreds of thousands have died and millions of the innocent are suffering because of the unwillingness of the United States during the1950s Korean War to use enough of the means at its command to complete the task of unification rather than leaving the same incomplete. Militarily, it is doubtful that China would have been able to continue its support for Kim Il Sung were the allied forces to have launched air attacks on Beijing, Shanghai and other population clusters during the conflict, as asked for by some of the allied commanders in the course of the campaign. And without such backing, as also assistance from the Soviet Union, it would not have been possible for Kim Il Sung to retain control over what is now the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).Unfortunately, more than a few of the strategic thinkers and planners in the US (as also most of its NATO partners) are neither willing to use a sufficient volume of accessible kinetic force to ensure an equilibrium result (i.e. an outcome, the consequences of which remain stable over time) or to adopt the contrary tactic of persuasion through concessions that are of the quality and range needed to get a stable result. Since its inception, the DPRK has been confronted with military foes that decline to use more than an attenuated quantum of their strength against the NKL, with the consequence that the only effect has been to slow down but not reverse the progression of the DPRK and its leadership towards the possession of WMD of unacceptably high levels of lethality. Certainly there have been efforts at persuading the NKL to halt its steps towards unacceptable levels of lethality, but none of these has been of sufficient depth or credibility to ensure a genuine change of course.
Indeed, most have literally been “too little, too late”, or concessions made that could have been decisive in earlier circumstances, but which are ineffective because of the (delayed) time that they were made.
The prescription of a “Christ-Buddha” path towards Korean reconciliation and unity is based on the following:
(a) The “Buddha” element comprises of the reality of the NKL being wholly rational in its responses to the external environment, whatever may be the errors in its domestic policies. Clearly, the Kim family understands the perceptions and likely responses of the international community towards specific actions even while it does not take seriously the needs of the population living within the DPRK. That being the case, it would be unrealistic to assume that any change in the internal circumstances of the DPRK consequent to the imposition of wide spectrum sanctions by the RoK and its allies would effect a shift in NKL behaviour. Indeed, the policy of imposing quarantine on the DPRK has sheltered the regime by depriving its population of contact with the external environment on a scale sufficient to overcome faith in the disinformation peddled by the NKL to its own people. If the “Sunshine Policy” had a fault, it was that it operated as if it were the sunshine found not in the bright daylight but the faded aura of twilight. What was needed (at the time of its initiation by Kim Dae-Jung in 1998, and which continued in a somewhat haphazard fashion until 2008; Haphazard because there were patches of “darkness” in the form of actions directed against the DPRK) was a policy of Bright Sunlight rather the intermittent “twilight” level of sunlight associated with the “sunshine” policy. While there were periods of “sunlight”, these were often followed by an opposite approach, in a manner that gave rise to differing interpretations about causation. The waning and waxing of the influence of different political factions on the actions of the Republic of Korea (RoK) government were seen by Pyongyang as the cause of several of these policy shifts, and the NKL calculated that these were alterations over which it had little sway. Hence the “sunshine policy” was not regarded by Pyongyang as being “bright” or steady enough to warrant a fundamental shift in approach towards the ROK. Taken as an entirety, the responses of the Kim family regime to changing external pressure and stimuli were fully rational, and hence the confidence that the North Korean Leadership (NKL) may be expected to accept a set of policies that included the protection of the individual interests and futures of its key human components. Such a verifiable assurance would be a non-negotiable component of a future DPRK-RoK agreement on Korean unity.
(b) The “Christ” element references the imperative of forgiveness by the South Korean Leadership (SKL) of the deeds of the North Korean Leadership (NKL). Although this may seem to be an escape clause for the NKL, in reality the justification vests in the compassion so well merited by the Korean people, who have uninterruptedly from 1945 to the present undergone substantial tranches of trauma as a consequence of the division of a single people into two separate and mutually hostile entities. The option which would reduce to levels acceptable to populations resident in a democracy as evolved as the RoK would be that of peaceful unification through a facilitatory agreement between the two sides. There will be — and are — voices both within the RoK as well as in other countries allied to Seoul which call for accountability through punishment (proportional or otherwise) for the deeds of the NKL. In the absence of a negotiated and peaceful settlement of differences, such an insistence on accountability would entail not simply a cost limited to the NKL but would carry the risk of significant collateral damage to millions of innocent lives across the region, including within the RoK and Japan. This is because such a stance would make conflict inevitable. Hence the need to accept that more than accountability, what is needed is to ensure that more innocent lives not be ruined deliberately or otherwise by the actions of either side. In this context, there is a need to mention that several hundred thousand residents of the DPRK have been adversely affected by the punitive measures implemented by the RoK and its allies on the DPRK, even while the NKL (which is the actual perpetrator of the deeds in retaliation for which coercive measures have been employed) seems not to have suffered any diminution in its standard of living.
Assuming that Korean unity comes about as a consequence of negotiation in a climate of peace, China would need to be a key element in such talks. While both the “sticks” as well as the “carrots” used by the RoK and its allies in relation to the DPRK are usually of a nature less than consequential, in the case of the Peoples Republic of China (PRC), the substantive i.e. non-verbal “sticks” have been of very low-wattage, while the “carrots” have been significant even for such early-phase deeds as ensuring that the DPRK comes to the negotiating table. Once there, it has almost always been the case that Beijing believes that its work has been done, when the reality is that such a step needs to be only the start of actions by the PRC that would have the effect of ensuring compliance by the DPRK of the demands of other elements of the international community. In the absence of such additional (or follow up) measures by China, talks with the DPRK resemble a rubber band denoting compliance that gets stretched by the talks and its immediate aftermath, but soon afterwards reverts to its original position. The RoK and its allies, including Tokyo and Washington, need to devise and implement a menu of actions designed to provide an impetus to the PRC to commit itself to the full range of measures needed to ensure that the North Korean Leadership (NKL) come to the conference table with the intention of a settlement that is satisfactory to both sides, the ideal form of which would be a formula for unification of the divided peninsula. In other words, while there must be a reward for peace and its promotion, there needs to be a more than proportionate cost inflicted on those entities that weaken the impetus for peace by giving assistance to groups and interests standing in the way of a non-confrontational settlement of intra-Korean issues. In the case of China, while the “carrots” have multiplied with each (cripplingly incomplete) gesture of support to peace efforts, except for a few verbal sallies or symbolic gestures such as giving recognition to dissidents, the sticks have disappeared since the Nixon’s outreach to the PRC in 1972, a policy deepened under President Jimmy Carter and his Russo-phobic, Moscow-centric National Security Advisor, ZbigniewBrezezinski. In this background, the outreach to Moscow by President Donald J. Trump is welcome, in that neutrality by the Russian Federation in the event of a military solution by the RoK and its allies to the issue of Korean unification would greatly increase the speed of success of such an initiative.
The question has sometimes been asked as to why the North Korean case presents a more immediate challenge than does that of Pakistan, a country that is as much a Proxy Nuclear Weapons State (PNWS) as the DPRK. Both were given the means to develop their nuclear and missile systems to a level that would present a grave threat to Japan (in the case of the DPRK) and India (in the case of Pakistan). To a third country objectively less than friendly to India or Japan, such a situation would have the advantage of both Tokyo as well as Delhi regarding Pyongyang and Islamabad respectively as a much graver threat than the country which is responsible for both these countries becoming nuclear weapons states. That country would also benefit as a consequence of the expenditure of effort and expense by Tokyo and Delhi against their respective Proxy Nuclear Weapons State challengers, leaving that much less oxygen to power responses to the country responsible for both North Korea as well as Pakistan having both nuclear weapons as well as delivery systems despite a technological and industrial base far below that needed to evolve into such a state on their own. Of the two, the DPRK represents the greater immediate challenge, because of the hermit-like nature of the NKL led by Kim Jong Un, whose financial, social and other linkages with the world outside the boundaries of the territory controlled by them is of a very low intensity. In contrast, whether it be (often undeclared)foreign bank accounts, homes or relatives, the higher ranks of the Pakistan army (which controls the country’s nuclear and missile systems) have extensive interaction with the rest of the globe, including (and indeed principally) the United States. This gives a much greater probability of predictability to the actions of these globally-linked individuals than is the case with the higher echelons of the (largely delinked from global contacts) DPRK bureaucracy. Indeed, it is the relative opacity and unpredictability of the North Korean Leadership (NKL) that enhances the risk of an unplanned initiation of a sequence of actions that could terminate in the use of nuclear weapons. This is not to say that the problems posed by the Pakistan army’s possession of nuclear weapons and delivery systems are on a scale susceptible to being ignored. Although both India and the United States have individually sought to influence the behaviour patterns of the military in Pakistan in such a way as to be potentially non-lethal to other states (principally Afghanistan and India), such an effort would have a much higher chance of success were Delhi and Washington to coordinate their actions in the matter. In particular, Delhi and Washington need to work towards encouraging the professionalization of the Pakistan military, by making it subordinate to the civilian leadership of the country. Both the world’s largest democracies also need to work towards ensuring that all ethnic and religious groups in Pakistan be treated equally, and that the hegemony of a particular group over the rest be ended. In the case of the DPRK and its policies, this is being dealt with by a coalition with Japan, the RoC and the US at its core, although even here, the level of consultation and joint activity between the three capitals is still far less than what is needed to ensure a significant degree of success in altering the longstanding behaviour patterns of the NKL. In the geopolitical universe of threats in which Japan and the RoK find themselves, it is a given that an anti-missile system (perhaps on the lines of Israel’s Iron Dome) needs to become operational. However, the governments involved explaining the rationale for such indispensable defensive steps has been less in evidence, with the consequence of arise in public perception of the introduction of THAAD by stealth. The consequence has followed that it has been easier for “men in the shadows” to generate opposition within civil society in both Japan as well as the RoK for such a missile defense system, through creating the perception that THAAD would bring war closer, when in fact the deployment of this system would make the initiation of a conflict by the other side much less likely. Which indeed is the primary reason why the “other side” strongly disapproves of such a deployment, thereby indicating that its lead operational plans prominently include the option of a first strike using missile systems, including potentially those equipped with nuclear warheads.
Given the chemistry of the North Korean Leadership (NKL), it would be an inexcusable dereliction of responsibility by the current regimes in Washington, Seoul and Tokyo to allow Pyongyang to graduate to the stage where Pakistan is now situated as a consequence of past inaction by Washington and Delhi, that of having nuclear weapons (rather than simply devices) as well as delivery systems capable of inflicting unimaginable harm on potential adversaries. Once the DPRK reaches the stage of weaponising its nuclear warheads and mastering technology sufficient to convey the same to “enemy” shores, any incentive for unification would get considerably weakened. Hence the window for serious and sustained discussions on the subject is present, with both the carrot and the stick (in capitals) visible to the North Korean Leadership (NKL). The “stick” would be putting in place a military alliance which would include Vietnam, Taiwan and India that would be designed to ensure that regimes in sympathy with Pyongyang factor in the risks of outright involvement. An operational plan needs to be prepared that would take out the Higher Command structure of the DPRK within 72 hours of initiation. The heavier the initial blow, the lower will be the overall damage caused by the conflict, and planners need to factor in this desideratum. The “carrot” would include a complete and lifetime amnesty for the North Korean Leadership, as well as recognition through adjustments in protocol of a high (albeit honorary) status within the unified state. The time has come to test both the “Wisdom of the Buddha” on the part of the NKL and the “Compassion of Christ” on the part of the SKL through the initiation of discussions based on new postulates that are underscored by the centrality of the need to avoid further damage to the public weal as a consequence of the continuation of the unnatural division of a noble people.
[This paper was presented at the first session – Laying the foundation for one Korea– of Global Peace Convention — Manila 2017 held at the Marriott Convention Center, Manila, Philippines on 28th Feb 2017.
This paper also forms a part of an article series, entitled “Geopolitical Implications of the North Korea Crisis”, being published by the Science, Technology & Security forum.]
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal.