To begin, the conflict within the Korean peninsula started way before the official separation into two countries. For many years Korea has seen multiple presences of foreign actors including Japan, United States, Soviet Union and the United Nations. Japan spent an unprecedented amount of years in control of Korea pre-WWII due to their imperial rule. The global platform finally recognized the serious threat of Japan’s imperialistic tactics and forced a surrender to the Allies. Following the surrender, the Soviet Union and Korean communists had control of the northern Korean peninsula while American forces had the southern portion. With no attempt to ever break apart the country, the occupation of land by two different, typically opposing, states, led to the sovereignty of North Korea and South Korea. While the creation of two separate states would ideally end fighting, this caused even more conflict because neither state accepted the border as permanent further causing conflict over which state is the sole legitimate government over all of Korea. This unending conflict between North Korea and South Korea eventually erupted in war when the North crossed the created border and invaded South Korea with help from the Soviet Union.
First glance at this conflict, it is clear there has been multiple instances of foreign presence in Korea. From a constructivism point of view, recognize that multiple different outcomes are possible, and these outcomes are based on the individual’s past history and experiences guiding them forward. Further, a liberalism perspective allows for understanding causes for peace and how peace is achieved. Both of these lenses will be implemented to interpret what has happened and what is happening in Korea today. Throughout this paper, the question being investigated is how foreign intervention on the Korean peninsula caused at least fifty years of conflict and additionally, if there is any hope for peace in the future.
Throughout studying foreign policy, it has been established one of the most important parts of interpreting conflict is to study when the conflict is happening. Every encounter is situational and if it happened at a later time or earlier time in history, there could be an entirely different outcome. With the Korean war in mind, it is impossible to not recognize it occurred quickly following the end of World War II. The second world war consisted of an imperialist Germany and a determined leader, Hitler. After the world just ended a deadly war and a genocide in Germany, every foreign state now has a specific lens they are looking through after their own experience of what most recently occurred on the global platform. According to constructivism, the truth is dictated by people’s own experiences. The United States and the Soviet Union saw an imperialistic Japan occupying Korea and felt threatened by the similarities Japan embodied to Germany’s regime. With their post-WWII relativism lens clouding their judgement, the U.S. and the Soviet Union decided to push Japan out and themselves into Korea in order to construct the future path for Korea. Essentially, it was the United States’ past experience with Germany that constructed such a negative vision of imperialist nations. Further, in the midst of countries falling to communism, the United States was especially worried with Japan occupying Korea. President Truman believed if a communist nation showed aggression without any consequence from the global platform, a chain reaction would begin that not only marginalized the United Nations, but also encouraged communism. It was never intended for two countries to be born from conflict, but instead deescalate and control any future conflict. Although it is now clear this was not achieved in the slightest, constructivism provides the most detailed answer for why the outcome was separation and conflict for Korea.
The Korean war officially started with the invasion of South Korea, but there were many conflicts before the North’s invasion often prompted by the South over the 38th parallel the created border by the U.S. and the Soviets. The Korean war consisted of stalemates and a constant back and forth of which state occupied more land on the peninsula. More often than not, the border always fell back on the 38th parallel, where the original line was created by the United States and Soviet Union. After 3 years of deadly fighting and families divided, an was signed by both sides and included the Korean Demilitarized Zone running in line with the 38th parallel. Although there was no peace treaty signed, this armistice ended the conflict between North Korea and South Korea.
Following a fatal Korean war and multiple different borders of who occupies what land in Korea, the Korean Demilitarized Zone being created in almost the exact spot where the original border was created for the two new countries is interesting. These two countries believed they had legitimacy to the entire country yet still ended with an agreement separating them where the foreign actors originally did. Through a constructivism lens, this isn’t surprising. The United States and the Soviet Union initially produced this imaginary border down the middle of Korea for the sake of decreasing conflict. Although this seemed like the best idea following their experiences in the second world war, this was a terrible decision because it was the construction of two separate countries in the Korean people’s eyes. It wasn’t a clear initiative on the foreign actors’ agenda, but this was the Korean’s truth based on constructivism. Once the separation was created with two different regimes providing examples of how to run a state, it was impossible for Koreans to see the light of the other side of the country there was no going back.
With causality established through a constructivism perspective, the hope for peace might be within reach for the two nations on the Korean peninsula. Following approximately 50 years’ worth of aggression and hostility towards other, April 2018 brought about new light regarding the conflict between the two states. North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, and South Korean President, Moon Jae-in, met in the Korean Demilitarized Zone for a summit. They then signed a declaration for peace which committed the two countries to a nuclear-free Korea. Moreover, both leaders spoke of officially ending the Korean War by the start of the new year. This is by far the most amount of progress North Korea and South Korea have ever made. Slightly surprising, as well, because these two countries have virtually nothing in common politically or economically.
Following the end of the Korean war, both countries reacted in two different ways. Immediately succeeding the armistice, South Korea neither inclined nor declined. However, their alliance with the United States continued to aid them in recovery. The United States recruited troops from South Korea to deploy in Vietnam. In return, South Korea profited immensely. Once their GNP increased, South Korea industrialized. Differing South Korea’s successful post-war economy, North Korea began with rapid industrialization then stagnated and declined due to communism. Unfortunately, there was forced labor, concentration camps, thousands being executed in purges, and starvation. Most of this is consequence to the Korean war after multiple bombings by the United States. There was complete destruction of all agriculture, schools, hospitals, and homes North Korea was in every sense of the word ruined. If it weren’t for economic assistance from the Soviet Union and China, North Koreans would have experienced widespread famine. With great help in economic aid, North Korea quickly rebuilt industrially and soon was able to cease monetary funds from foreign countries. Once they were able to stand on their feet alone, Kim Il Sung implemented an economic policy called, Juche, meaning self-reliance. Essentially, this gave the North Korean government permission to control every aspect of the state: economy, private property, media, travel restrictions, collectivized agricultural land. If there was a part of North Korea that could be controlled by the state, it was. Though North Korea’s economy was inclining due to investment in heavy industry with the help of Soviet aid, this didn’t last forever.
Kim Jong Il gained power after his father died of a heart attack; Jong Il implemented a different policy, Songun Chong’chi, meaning military first. With military as the most important facet of the state, this drastically widened already existing inequalities between the elite and the ordinary in North Korea. Jong Il’s reign brought poor agricultural policies and a mismanaged economy. Now emerged the black market in North Korea because the state was allowing for the ordinary people to starve due to lack of access to nutrition.
While South Korean industry and economy was booming thanks to a liberal market, their state saw North Korea in an absolute downfall. Not only sympathy for their neighbor, but also North Korea had been consistently showing aggression to South Korea with the rise of manufacturing of nuclear weapons and different conflicts near the 38th parallel once again. South Korean president Kim Dae-jung implemented a policy, the Sunshine Policy, in hopes of lightening North Korea’s antagonistic attitudes towards South Korea. At the time of establishment of this policy, North Korea was rapidly declining facing bankruptcy and spending too much of their budget on building the military and military weapons. Ideally, the Sunshine Policy would decrease aggression towards each other and the North could focus on domestic issues rather than conflict with South Korea. Considering North Korea’s constantly teetering humanity within the state, South Korea saw an opportunity to consolidate their need for help. Not only hoping to bring peace with this policy, South Korea was afraid if North Korea ever did fall more than it already has, North Korea would be backed into a corner and eventually use force to reunify the Korean peninsula. Further with the launch on the Sunshine Policy, divided families across the border had more of a chance to reunite with lost family members. In South Korea’s perspective, the Sunshine Policy would be nothing short of a win-win situation.
The successful Sunshine Policy led to the first meeting between leaders since the end of the Korean War. The June 15th North-South Joint Declaration was agreed upon in an effort to adopt a few policies regarding foreign interaction. The ultimate goal of the declaration was eliminating the danger of nuclear war through denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, and thus to create an environment and conditions favorable for peace and peaceful unification of our country and contribute to peace and security in Asia and the world, (Asian Perspective, 161). Following the creation of this peaceful and hopeful declaration, relations declined again, and North Korea restarted its nuclear program. New South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun continued the Sunshine Policy with hopes of again regaining peace on the peninsula. North Korea still had poor conditions in their country for their citizens so South Korea sustained humanitarian aid to North Korea as his predecessor did. 2006 brought the end of the Sunshine Policy because North Korea aggressions were not lightening. There was still threat of nuclear warfare and South Korea needed to start acting conservatively in an effort to protect the state. South Korea stopped aiding North Korea and the Sunshine Policy was considered a failure in 2010.
With a liberal perspective, so many talks of peace and ending of conflict is exciting. Although, recognizing the context of these peace talks and the history of both countries, it is easy to be very skeptical. North Korea is a communist state and South Korea is democratic. South Korea is attempting to create interdependency between the two states in an effort to decrease the use of military, however, with two drastically different regimes who have a history of conflict, this effort might not be successful. Through liberalism, it has been established history is linear and progressive. Further, South Korea needs to recognize a few points of concern: international organizations are necessary to continue peace talks and interdependency isn’t enough to bring successful peace. Every working part of the liberalism theory needs to be apparent in this conflict simply because it has been lasting for many, many years. Necessary working parts of the Kantian Triangle include: democracy, trade, and membership of international organizations. In order for the Korean peninsula to see peace, North and South Korea need to be on the same page for each of those stipulations, until then, peace talks might just be distant hope.
Continuing, critics of the Sunshine Policy argue this peace policy is essentially a give-out policy for North Korea. Ideally, the policy was implemented with a reciprocity clause, yet North Korea clearly hasn’t upheld its end of the policy. Although this is true and South Korea is essentially giving free money to North Korea, it is still bringing more peace than no relationship at all. North Korea has grown dependent on South Korea’s humanitarian aid. Without it, North Korea would crumble even more.
During the time of no Sunshine Policy, the aggression between the two states worsened dramatically. There was more conflict over the border and even abductions of South Korean military officers. The United States redeployed troops to the region in support of South Korea. The United Nations Security Council implemented a resolution banning North Korea from launching any satellites. There was extreme escalation and even mention of nuclear attacks against South Korea and the United States. North Korea continued progressing the manufacturing of missiles and nuclear weapons even with peace talks in the air.
Growing tired of the constant conflict on the Korean peninsula, 2018 brought more efficient peace talks than ever seen before. Newly elected South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, promised to return the Sunshine Policy. The hotline between Seoul and Pyongyang was finally reopened after two years of inactivity. Following positive relations at the Winter Olympics in South Korea, a summit was attended by both leaders in the South Korean zone of the Joint Security Area marking the first presence of a North Korea leader in South Korea territory since the Korean War. The Panmunjom Declaration was signed by both leaders pledging towards complete denuclearization. Additionally, the leaders agreed to work together on maintain and modernizing their railways and end military activities around the border. Lastly, the leaders declared to officially end the Korean War with a peace treaty signing at the end of the year.
Following this substantial progress made in April 2018, there has been plenty communication between the two states including more than two meetings, reopening a liaison office, and North Korea having a successful meeting with the United States. Additionally, the political progress has extended to social progress such as competing as a united Korea in the Asian Games, allowing North Korean movies to be presented at South Korea movie festivals, and more reunions of divided families in North Korea.
Although these two states do not have every aspect of the Kantian Triangle completed to create peace, there seems to be a peaceful relationship forming. It is risky yet for the South Korean government to undoubtedly trust North Korea because there could be an ulterior motive at play. To resurface the original research questions: how did foreign intervention cause fifty years of conflict between two neighboring countries and moreover, is there any hope for peace in the future. Constructivism is an adequate tool to understanding where the conflict began within the Korean peninsula. Two foreign actors, the United States and the Soviet Union, pushed their way into Korea in an effort to pressure Japan out. While succeeding in their original goal of expelling Japan from Korea, the U.S. and the Soviets further engrained a concept of two separate sovereign states in the minds of Korean people. Further, with two very different regimes occupying land in Korea and trying to get Korea back on a united track, they were following opposing regime examples. The United States was showing southern Korea their version of success through democracy while the Soviet Union was showing northern Korea success through communism. Further, these two states constructed an imaginary border separating the Korean peninsula eventually becoming the official Korean Demilitarized Zone years later at the conclusion of the Korean War.
As discussed, following the armistice that unofficially ended the Korean War, there were years and years of unresolved conflict. North Korea eventually started a rapid decline after unprecedented success while South Korea continued their economic climb and democratic success. Peace talks began to loom the air; with a liberalist lens, there are certain objectives needed to achieve peace. For example, the Democratic Peace Theory proves countries who are democratic do not go to war with other democratic nations. Unfortunately, North Korea is a communist nation with no future sights set on regime change. Knowing this, peace seems far from the distant future. Although the relations between North Korea and South Korea have most certainly thawed in the past year, liberalism is skeptical about complete peace between the two regimes. History is linear and progressive, according to liberalism, so perhaps peace is on the near horizon for the Korean peninsula. However, nothing can be guaranteed because North Korea and South Korea still differ greatly. The most optimistic chance for peace is if North Korea sees a regime change to democracy, but that is quite unlikely.
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