The U.S. And South Korea: Denuclearization On The Korean Peninsula

President Donald Trump’s administration is encouraging the new President of South Korea, Moon Jae-In, to join the U.S. and adopt a coercive approach towards North Korea. Trump hopes that coercion will lead to North Korea relinquishing their nuclear weapons program. Many believe that Moon Jae-in will adopt a Sunshine policy. However, it appears likely that Moon will use a combination of engagement and pressure to resolve the nuclear problem in the Peninsula.

The security dilemma for South Korea, China, and the U.S. is that it is caught between a desire to engage North Korea diplomatically, whilst also vehemently opposing the DPRK’s military and nuclear threats. The U.S., South Korea, and Japan’s primary aim is to encourage North Korea to abandon their nuclear weapons program. This week, Trump re-asserted to the world that the U.S.’s goal on the Peninsula is to firstly, pronounce denuclearization and secondly establish “peace, stability and prosperity for the region.” President Trump has remained bold, intolerant, and aggressive against North Korea and demands that they immediately stop their nuclear program. President Trump has also bolstered the U.S.’s relationship with Moon Jae-in in order to better achieve his strategic policy aims.

China has consistently rejected foreign troops being stationed in Korea. With regards to North Korea, China’s primary concern is for stability in East Asia and, as such, does not prioritize denuclearisation as much. Trump recently admitted that China has been inefficacious and “not worked out” or helped the Korea issue, which has been due to China prioritizing peace in the region over denuclearization.

There have been a portfolio of coercive tactics used by foreign powers to shift North Korea’s provocative behaviour, including the following: condemnations from the UN Secretary General, UNSC resolutions that authorize economic sanctions, unilateral sanctioning from Presidential orders, in particular South Korea and the U.S., and many assertive calls for North Korea to relinquish their nuclear aspirations. Nonetheless, these coercive measures have only lead to North Korea becoming even more volatile and aggressive. Previous South Korean regimes have used the Sunshine Policy and it has been successful in part in shifting North Korea’s provocations.

The aim of the Sunshine Policy is to promote reconciliation, peace, and aid in exchange for North Korea to relinquish its hostility and to end its alienation from the international community. The Kim Dae-Jung administration (1998-2003) and later Rho Moo-hyun operated under the Sunshine Policy as a response to the shortcomings of previous hard-line foreign policies used by South Korea and other powers against North Korea.

The Sunshine Policy is largely preferable as it has, historically, been most successful in facilitating diplomatic discussions on the Peninsula. The softer and more engaging approach was underscored by an assumption that North Korea’s threatening rhetoric and bellicosity was a survival strategy. Under the Sunshine Policy, inter-Korean discussions have been most conducive towards denuclearization and peace on the Peninsula.

With that said, at this time, the policy community does not have an alternative and more effective answer than the Sunshine Policy, as it provides a framework to better manage and appropriate threats on the peninsula. The Sunshine Policy has gained greater domestic support in recent years and, when used, has reduced provocations. Moon Jae-in has supported the enhancement of international sanctions and coercive measures alongside forms of engagement. However, perhaps it is time for Moon Jae-in to favour engagement over containment and coercion, as engagement may more likely lead to denuclearization and peace on the Peninsula.

Lucas Mirani