Korean Crisis – A South Korean Perspective

By Youngsu Won
November 29, 2017
Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal
reposted from Europe Solidaire Sans Frontières 

Will a verbal war between a senile dotard and a little rocket man result in an actual war? Probably not, but at the very moment, the risk is unprecedented, the highest without question. The reason?

Simply because the consequent of any action will be beyond imagination, and extremely catastrophic in every sense of the word. This is the only imaginable deterrent of any possible war, unfortunately.

For the South Korean society, there are few visible signs of war. Even Al Jazeera questions why the South Koreans do not seem worried about an impending war, in this risky escalation of military conflict? The answer is, for almost 70 years, generation after generation, South Koreans have been facing the threat of war on a daily basis.

Then, all of a sudden, Han Kang, a female novelist and winner of the Man Booker International Prize for Fiction, wrote an essay for the New York Times: “While the US Talks of War, South Korea Shudders” [1]. This is a direct protest against Trump’s warmongering and it also reveals the latent traumas of most South Koreans, torn by experiences of war and the subsequent social and political memories.

Then Trump questions: Why do South Koreans not thank the US for its protection? No remark is further out of targets. What does the senile dotard expect after incessantly provoking war games and driving the peninsula to the brink of an apocalyptic war?

Paradoxical peace

Basically, the peace for over half a century on the Korean Peninsula is paradoxical, in that such peace is sustained only by the fact that any potential of war is tantamount to an apocalyptic annihilation – it is too devastatingly huge and too dangerous.

For almost 70 years, generation after generation of Koreans face the threat of war on their soil, not just of a nuclear war but also of conventional weapons that would instantly destroy the whole nation of both North and South.

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Korea Passing?

The present SK government’s policies are aimed at resolving the crisis, as well as improving the North-South relationship. However, those in-charge in the U.S. and Japan today, who are allies to South Korea, are the worst warmongers in recent history of the region, and this conjuncture and structure weaken the autonomous capacity of the new SK government.

Civil society and social movement in general are supportive of the SK government’s approach, but critical toward both the U.S. and N.K governments, though with respect to the latter, the issues involved are rather delicate.

The pro-North Korea groups in South Korea are mainly cautious, in that they were ideologically isolated under the previous two governments and are very much repressed. Moreover, they are well aware that any further implication of their connections with N.K. would certainly threaten their existence. Regardless, their perception is that they have to support N.K.’s approach towards the US and SK, as self-defence against any external threats.

North Korea’s gamble

Kim Jung-Un regime’s choice is suicidal, helping no one but the regime itself. The victims of such an insane, reckless confrontation strategy are the North Korean people. At this conjuncture, the only resistance by North Koreans is desertion from their homeland, even though their escape is mostly assisted by anti-communist Christian fundamentalists and secret agents from South Korea.

The North Korean regime is playing a very dangerous gamble, without any intention to reform the regime toward a people-centered democratic system. Paradoxically, Kim Jung-Un’s gamble saved Japan’s ultranationalist Abe government from the political crisis, and to give it a valuable chance to rearm itself. The ruling LDP’s overwhelming victory of the general election in October 22 was given by Kim Jung-Un.

Simple solution?

Everyone knows the solution. To stop the spiral of tensions and initiate a dialogue: the U.S. must stop its threats and military exercises, and North Korea must suspend nuclear tests and missile launches.

For now, some reports of bilateral dialogues surface occasionally, but no one is sure of the prospect except for the back-door dealers. Except for these ambiguous moves, the key players of this conflict ignore this simple and easy solution completely.

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Then, who will secure this simple solution? If South Korean government’s intention is not enough, then what?

Dilemma of South Korea’s social movements

In the context of the present crisis, civil and social movements in Korea, Japan, and China, if any, need to form an alliance for peace on the Korean peninsula, which will revive the shared historical memory of vibrant international solidarity and cooperation between Korean, Japanese and Chinese lefts in the first half of the 20th century.

However, the reality is gloom. China and North Korea lack any civil society with the capacity for autonomous actions, and despite some exchange and sharing of experiences, South Korean and Japanese social movements have had few experiences of solidarity and collaboration.

And in South Korea, the peace movement per se is extremely weak and lacking the internationalist perspective. For long years, under the presumed consensus that the national reunification is an absolute good, more practical need to secure a permanent peace was relatively neglected. And little efforts were made to secure peace in cooperation with international peace movements.

Urgent need of global peace movement

How to solve this crisis? What is absent in this critical juncture? The only force to block the escalation of crisis is the East Asian peace movement from below, and perhaps a global anti-militarist, anti-imperialist peace movement.

As the awarding of the Nobel Prize to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) shows, the UN’s adoption of a treaty banning nuclear weapons at the initiative of 122 countries was a meaningful achievement. But this is not enough!!! Without huge pressure and mobilization, a UN treaty is just a piece of paper.

Remember the historic anti-war mobilization of February 15, 2003 against the then-impending Iraq War, and the pan-European mobilizations against the missiles in the 1980s, which became the precursor of the anti-globalization movement. We have not had a few significant successful international mobilizations, thus, delegitimizing war and neoliberal globalization.

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International social movements and radical left need to build a global peace movement now, as well as a global environmental movement against climate change for the survival of the human kind. Both movements are essential, but the former is even more consequential and influential in this historical conjuncture because at this very moment, war and militarism will only lead to catastrophe, countless casualties, and killing of innocent victims across the globe.


Donald Trump visited South Korea on 7th and 8th on his journey to East Asia, and his visit brought in the welcome and opposition protests simultaneously. The competition between pro- and anti-Trump protests is an extension of anti-Park Geunhye candlelight protests and pro-Park Korean flag protests. However, anti-Trump protests failed to overwhelm wave of Korean flags and Stars and Stripes.

Over 20,000 riot police and security personnel defended Trump and prevented the collision between the protests. However, only part of the candlelight movements joined the protests, though an absolute majority of Korean people are angry with Trump’s senseless provocations. And thus, the anti-Trump mobilization for peace was limited in scope and perspective, and disappointingly, not much impressive, though anti-Trump coalition claimed that technically it covered over 200 social and civic movements. South Korea’s peace movement has a long way to go

 * Won Youngsu is coordinator of the International Forum in Korea

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/07/opinion/sunday/south-korea-trump-war.html

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