Time for détente with North Korea

Despite a commitment by North Korea to reach out to Canada and establish a détente, Canada refuses to de-escalate tension between the two countries.

Earlier this month it was reported that high-level officials from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) came to Ottawa to meet with Canadian bureaucrats back in September 2018. The report suggests Trudeau’s government invited the DPRK officials for a discussion on denuclearization and human rights.

The talks were, however, nothing but a farce. The Trudeau government commented in the story by maintaining Canada will continue to refuse to establish normalized relations with the country.

The DPRK, meanwhile, is prepared to end hostilities against the U.S. and its allies — including Canada. DRPK leader Kim Jong-un has continually expressed a desire to remove the looming threat of U.S. aggression from his country. The DPRK is currently encircled by American military bases and nuclear-capable naval ships. Moreover, the U.S. conducts military training missions along the DPRK’s border, airspace and coast as a show of force.

Nevertheless, the DPRK has remained steadfast in its commitment to mutual co-operation and the de-escalation of tension. Kim Jong-un, just last year, was able to secure a promise from the Republic of Korea’s (ROK) president — Moon Jae-in — to officially end the Korean War.

U.S. President Donald Trump has taken a diplomatic stance on the DPRK. He has continually called for the establishment of normalized relations with the DPRK— so long as the DPRK gives up its nuclear weapons.

While Kim has taken steps to accommodate the U.S., he has not stopped nuclear weapons testing or given up his nuclear arsenal — and for good reason. While President Trump may have a reasonable stance on the DPRK and the ROK is prepared for peace on the peninsula, the rest of the American political apparatus and its allies are frothing at the mouth.

When Trump and Kim met in June 2018 to discuss reducing tensions on the Korean peninsula, they reached a modest agreement. Trump would stop performing military exercises just outside of DPRK territory if Kim took denuclearization talks seriously. The ranking Democrats quickly denounced Trump’s plan as conceding too much to the DPRK.

Simply not flying fighter jets in simulated combat just outside DPRK airspace was too much to give for the Democratic leadership. And this is the political party who is likely to return to power after the 2020 presidential election.

In January 2018, Canada co-chaired — with the U.S. — a “Korean Peninsula” summit (without the DPRK) with 18 other allies to determine a way to strengthen and “increase the effectiveness” of sanctions against the DPRK. Numerous economic sanctions have been imposed on the DPRK. They include a ban on the import of essential industrial inputs like oil.

Such sanctions have even strained the DPRK’s food supply, as it relies more than ever on its most reliable ally, China, to supply food imports outside of the food allowed by the UN to be imported on humanitarian grounds.

Kim has no alternative but to maintain nuclear weapons. His government is under continual economic attack and military posturing. Even with a co-operative ROK and America right now, Kim understands in a few years new politicians could again threaten the existence of his nation. This is reflected in Kim’s push to get a deal with America before the end of Trump’s first term.

The nuclear weapon is the only thing standing between Kim and potential military action against his country.

The DPRK’s nuclear program proper didn’t begin until after the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.

For the DPRK, this was the most powerful military force on the planet entirely ignoring international law and norms to break the back of every entity which rejected U.S. hegemony — at least the ones it could get away with.

Libya’s collapse in 2011, spurred on by the brazen bombing of the country by NATO, arguably only reinforced the DPRK’s realization that a nuclear weapon remains the only tool to keep the encircling opposition at bay.

The notion that the DPRK is maintained by authoritarian control and non-stop propaganda is only partly true. There are verifiable and irrefutable accounts of authoritarianism and suppression in the country. Prison conditions in the DPRK are horrendous and anyone can be arbitrarily sent to one. Moreover, the DPRK has no independent media. Rather, all media is created, approved and distributed by the government.

But such reductionism fails to realize how the DPRK government improved the lives of the people after the Korean War armistice in 1953.

In 1953, the DPRK’s industry, cities, agriculture and population were obliterated by the American-led offensive against the nation. American war planes dropped more explosives on the DPRK than all the bombs dropped during the entire Pacific theatre of the Second World War.

It was the DPRK government that re-industrialized at a rate greater than the ROK until at least 1965, and markedly improved the lives of DPRK citizens, recovering from 30 years of Japanese imperialism and three years of brutal American bombing.

The Kim family’s position as a steward of these successes and the sustained antagonism against the DPRK must be viewed as equally responsible — if not more so — for the continued existence of the DPRK as any authoritarianism or mass propaganda might be.

Canada maintains relations and trade with serial human rights abusing nations while also conducting serious talks. After Thailand’s coup d’état in 2014 and the installation of a military junta, Canada maintained official diplomatic relations with Thailand. This is despite reports of grievous human right abuses by the Thai military junta.

When the DPRK sends high-ranking representatives to talk with Canada, it should discuss establishing diplomatic relations and normalized trade. Because right now, the people of the DPRK see America and its allies — including Canada — as encircling powers who are forcing the tiny nation to garrison itself.

With Canada persisting in its policy of economic aggression, it is hard to envision how the DPRK is wrong on that front.

The DPRK will continue to exist, likely with a Kim at the helm. Any real chance of a reunified Korean peninsula or even stability and peace in the region, can only be achieved with détente.