The South Korean government of President Moon Jae-in continues to fall in line with the belligerent and militarist agenda of the United States, giving its tacit endorsement to Donald Trump’s threat to “totally destroy” North Korea.
In the latest threatening maneuver, the US flew two B-1B bombers from Guam together with F-15C fighter jets from Okinawa on Saturday along North Korea’s coast, supposedly in international airspace. Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White stated that they flew the farthest north of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas that US war planes have gone in the 21st century.
South Korea’s presidential office announced that it had closely coordinated this latest act of aggression with Washington. Baek Hye-ryeon, spokeswoman for the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) stated that this “underscored the strong determination by our two countries to hold North Korea accountable for additional provocations.”
Despite President Moon’s call for peace on the Korean Peninsula last Thursday at the UN, his administration’s latest actions and comments again make clear that there is no anti-war constituency within the South Korean ruling class. In fact, Moon made no mention of Trump’s speech while delivering his address. He invoked the candlelight rallies that were held earlier this year to protest then-President Park Geun-hye, claiming “the ‘people’ are at the center of all policies of my new administration.”
Yet, the same day, Moon met with Trump to discuss, among other things, Seoul’s purchasing of state-of-the-art weaponry from the US as well as increased rotational deployments of US strategic assets. They agreed to continue discussing these matters when Trump visits South Korea in November. The two also agreed to continue applying “maximum pressure” to North Korea, a sentiment that was reiterated when the pair met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe later that day.
Moon came to office claiming he would pursue dialogue with Pyongyang and played on widespread anti-war sentiment by posturing as an opponent of the US’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery.
However, since being elected, not only has THAAD been fully deployed, but Moon has backtracked on promises of talks with North Korea, stating earlier this month, “In a situation like this, dialogue is impossible.” He also intends to establish a “decapitation unit” that could be used to assassinate Kim Jong-un and other North Korean leaders, a program that originated under the right-wing Park Geun-hye. Moon has also expressed a desire to build nuclear-powered submarines, generating fears of an arms race.
Tensions within Moon’s government have emerged between hardliners who advocate increased militarism and those that favor an easing of tensions with North Korea, fearing the consequences of an all-out war in the region. The president’s special advisor on unification and foreign policy Moon Chung-in suggested during a forum held at the National Assembly on September 14, that the US and South Korea should consider scaling back joint war exercises in exchange for a freeze on North Korea’s nuclear program—a plan pushed by China and Russia.
Defense Minister Song Young-mu condemned Moon’s remarks as “deplorable” and accused him of “running off at the mouth.” The presidential office issued a “stern warning” to Song, who later apologized. But this is not the first time the defense minister has been at odds with the administration. He previously suggested that South Korea could reintroduce US tactical nuclear weapons, in opposition to President Moon’s position, which he also retracted. Song’s remarks are in line with the right-wing opposition Liberty Korea Party and Bareun Party.
The ruling DPK on Saturday urged both Washington and Pyongyang to show more restraint. “Under such circumstances, an exchange of excessive verbal threats would only heighten anxiety,” said DPK spokesman Gang Hun-sik.
Rather than a call for peace, these remarks absolve the United States, which is the primary driver of tensions on the Korean Peninsula and in the region. Since 1945 when the US artificially divided Korea, it has used South Korea as a launching ground for imperialist wars against the North, in Indochina, and today for again threatening war against North Korea and pressuring China and Russia. Countless could die if Trump carries out his threats to obliterate North Korea, an impoverished country of 25 million people.
In contrast, North Korea has attempted to reach various accords with the US, including two different agreements over its nuclear program that Washington abrogated. Today, Pyongyang is not simply looking for a new agreement, but a peace treaty with the United States that would formally end the 1950-1953 Korean War and normalize relations between the two countries. The US has routinely rejected this.
“North Korea’s supreme leader, Kim Jong-un, is unlikely to agree to give up his country’s nuclear and missile programs without receiving convincing assurances that he will not suffer the fate of Saddam Hussein of Iraq or Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya,” said James Dobbins, a former US assistant secretary of state, and Jeffrey Hornung from the RAND Corporation in the New York Times in June.
Furthermore, North Korean officials have indicated that Pyongyang is willing to engage in talks with the United States if a peace treaty is on the table. A former senior government official in China’s Liaoning Province on the border with North Korea told the publication Asia Today in July, “I recently met a senior official of the North Korean Embassy. He talked about a precondition to the talks. It was South Korea’s acceptance and support for [the] conclusion of [a] Pyongyang-Washington peace treaty.”
Another anonymous source from South Korea, similarly told the paper, “North Korean high-ranking officials in China insist that there is no reason to seek a nuclear program if a North Korea-U.S. peace treaty is signed. The ultimate goal of North Korea is normalization of the US-North Korea diplomacy through a peace treaty and guarantee of its system.”
This is in line with what former US State Department special envoy on North Korea Robert Gallucci stated in the Asahi Shimbun in June. Gallucci, who held talks with North Korean officials last October, stated that Pyongyang “appeared to want to improve relations with the US to reduce its dependence on China,” but would not give up its nuclear program because it had “no other means of guaranteeing” its continued existence.