Threats to PeaceˇXNorth Korea and China.   June, 2006  Lois M Wilson


My thesis is that engagement and negotiation, not isolation or confrontation, is the preferred strategy re the DPRK. Conversation and talking is better than military threats and war.


I have become engaged in the last six yearsˇXever since leading the first Canadian Government delegation to Pyongyang as a precursor to establishing diplomatic relationsˇXwhich Canada did in Feb 2001. It was then a hopeful time:



a)      Kim Dae Jungˇ¦s Sunshine policy of reconciliation and reunification announced in Berlin

b)      Canada was establishing diplomatic relationsˇXhope for embassy in Ottawa

c)      Hope for significant role as middle power in reducing tensions and maybe contributing to framework for peace.

d)      Even in 2003, the DPRK was taking its first awkward steps to market oriented economic reforms.

Despite  no treaty after K warˇXonly cessation of hostilitiesˇXbut no adjacent country wants destablisation on K peninsulaˇXso probably containment will go on and onˇX


 Japanese colonization until 1945 (Koreans have to take Japanese names even in Japan!!)ˇX

US military stationed permanently in S Korea after the K war--

China the giant poised on its bordersˇXIf USA attacks, it has to contend with China--

Collapse of energy needs when USSR fell-

S K wants negotiation--


Four years ago some of us in Canada ( academics/ religious community/  humanitarian community/ multicultural community) established an NGO we named The Canada DPR Korea AssociationˇXto create a network of Canadians for the promotion of education and mutually beneficial relations between Canada and the DPR Korea. The Association is sending its fourth delegation to visit the DPRK this October, with the purpose of keeping the conversations open and the human contacts authentic. The Association has also received agricultural delegations from DPRK (in conjunction with the Quakers and Mennonites in Canada), mounted a film festival on N Korea, and in conjunction with the U of Toronto, invited N K Ambassador to the UN to come to Toronto for a public meeting. June 2/2005 was received and engaged, not heckled.


 June 15/06 was the 6th anniversary of what the North Koreans refer to as the June 15 Declaration, which now seems an empty promise. The threat to peace seem more dangerous now than any time in the past 6 years: Review what has happened:

a)      NK quit the non proliferation treaty

b)      Restarted its nuclear reactor

c)      Reprocessed spent fuel rods into weapons grade plutonium

d)      Declared itself a nuclear power

e)      Announced the development of a missile capable of reaching the Western shores of North AmericaˇXand continues to export missiles all over the worldˇXmajor industryˇXnot illegal  BUT-

            f) Bush moved the goal posts and declared N K the Axis of evil along with Iran and Iraq. (David Frum)

            g) 6 party talks seem stalledˇX2 elks locking horns (US and N K)

            h) humanitarian aid agencies asked to leave-


The BLAME for this is usually put on to the shoulders of N KoreaˇXoften with good reasonˇXthe DPRK regime is not easy to deal withˇXit is rigidˇXinscrutableˇXthere are human rights violationsˇXlabour campsˇXand refugees and dissidents continue to flee.


BUT N Korea does have authentic security needsˇXterritorial since surrounded by China, Russia, Japan, and USAˇXitˇ¦s very small 25 millionˇX


 Has real security needs in terms of a wider understanding of securityˇXand the threat of using nuclear weapons is not going to bring security to N K, particularly when security is broadly understood as PEOPLE securityˇXfoodˇXeconomic and social well beingˇXconcepts of security must include PEOPLE as well as statesˇXthere has been a marked shift in international thinking on this in the past decade. Security through human development with access to food and employment and to environmental security. Before 1990 N K was a developed countryˇXnow no factories ˇVno heatˇXenewrgy etcˇX


Essential to build human relationships at every level between citizens in DPRK and those of other countriesˇXto create trustˇXthis is the only way to motivate change in the behaviour on both sides and the only way to sustain negotiations between USA Govt and DPRK govt.


BUT security is unachievable if we continue to play the blame game. Blame is on all sides, particularly on how the current administration in the USA has handled what six years ago appeared to be a hopeful scenario.


a)      Power based adversarial approachˇXwhere resources are used to coerce or intimidate the other side in order to comply with their demandsˇXa win lose proposition. No end to this unless one side capitulatesˇXno peaceful ending even then as we have learned in Iraq. Winners need happy losers. The greater interdependence, the greater the need for mutually consensual solutions ( S Korea wants this) Happily China refused to cut off oil supplies to force DPRK back to the table as the US wantedˇXChinaˇ¦s Foreign Minister made it clear that it has no intention of suspending food supplies in its shipments to N Korea. No countries want a destabilized Peninsula. China in the driverˇ¦s seat in many ways.


c)      Rights based challenge:  Appeal to an external source like the UN Security CouncilˇXperceived by N K as a hostile approachˇXand  still a rights based contest a win-lose scenarioˇXsomeone has to apply force to make one of the parties comply. There can be no progress on the issue of human rights unless this is relkated to long term options for the future of the region. (Obvious since 1984)  Impossible to work on security for DPRK without solving long term problem of reunification.

d)      Negotiation. Allows both sides to arrive at a solution that satisfies each disputantˇ¦s interestˇXthat their own needs are met. It is interest-based, non adversarial approachˇXseeks reconciliation of each oneˇ¦s interests. It is often wrongly spoken of as ˇ§condoning, appeasing, capitulatingˇ¨, or ˇ§rewarding bad behaviour.ˇ¨

What we need to do is to re-frame the conflict.

Assumptions lead us to descriptions of N Korea as Stalinist, authoritarian, despotic, tyrannicalˇ¨ I pulled up the google site on N Korea and all these words and several more derogatory ones appear. This adversarial frame reinforces oneˇ¦s view that it is all hopeless anyway, and N K is the villain.

 Re Framing means changing oneˇ¦s perception of the situation so as to see new possibilities about what the situation really is and how it can be resolved.ˇXso we can change our frameˇXif not the  facts we know.  E.g. the Sunshine policy WAS a re-framing of the issue that opened possibilities for a time.


Civil society can play a vital role in re-framing the issue:

Communication, dialogue, learning and teaching, refusing to quit when it is tough, engaging without illusions in order to influence the outcome.


Nothing will speed change more quickly than an exposure of North Koreans from that Rip van Winkle country to the international community. This is not outside the power of civil society in our country.

e.g. British Ambassador to DPRK stopped over in Canada to share his perceptions from inside DPRKˇXsince Britain maintains a diplomatic presence in PyongyangˇXhe testified to the value of arranging for DPRK nationals to visit the UK on a 5 week learning English unit, funded by the British CouncilˇXand hoped other countries would do the same. Urgent need to establish scholarships to allow DPRK students to study abroad in sustainable development, environmental planning and reforestation. A small thingˇXa baby stepˇXbut feasible and possible. And wonderful what they will learn !!

My perception is that the DPRK really want international contacts and want to enter the international community, Letˇ¦s help them to understand what is required and help open that door. My thesis is that engagement and negotiation, not isolation or confrontation, is the preferred strategy re the DPRK. Conversation and talking is better than military threats and war.