Academic journal article North Korean Review

Has South Korea's Engagement Policy Reduced North Korea's Provocations? 1

Academic journal article North Korean Review

Has South Korea's Engagement Policy Reduced North Korea's Provocations? 1

Article excerpt


The Korean Peninsula remains a hot spot in international security. A puzzling North Korea has turned its back on the world by its incessant pursuit of nuclear weapons, and despite recent reconciliatory developments, tension remains between the two Koreas that may erupt into military conflict at any time. One area with the greatest potential for conflict is in the West Sea near the Northern Limit Line (NLL).2 South Korea is blaming North Korea for sinking one of its navy ships in the waters near the NLL in March 2010. More recently, South and North Korea exchanged artillery fire soon after North Korea fired on Yeonpyeongdo Island, near the NLL, in November 2010. The causes of these military conflicts remain a riddle. Though the NLL is considered a major factor, it alone is not sufficient to explain what brought the two Koreas into conflict.

One interpretation posits that North Korea's provocative posture is attributable to South Korea's punitive policy against North Korea. The current Lee Myung-bak government has taken a hard-line policy toward North Korea, making its North Korea policy distinguishable from the unilateral engagement policy of the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun governments. The current government has emphasized reciprocity and thus has showed little tolerance against North Korea's provocations. With this shift in policy toward North Korea, fears of a new conflict with North Korea are growing. As a consequence, some critics now speak about the need to ease military tension in the Korean Peninsula by reintroducing a peace and reconciliation policy with North Korea.3 Then, it is relevant to ask whether the unilateral engagement policies of the Kim Dae-j ung and the Roh Moo-hyun governments have reduced North Korea's provocations in the West Sea.4

With these concerns in mind, this paper challenges the widespread belief that "conflicts of interest are reduced by interdependence, and that cooperation alone holds the answer to world problems."5 The main argument here is that North Korea's NLL violations do not rise and fall based on South Korea's engagement or containment policy toward North Korea, but rather on North Korea's need to catch more marine products. In order to support the argument of this paper, the second section evaluates the inter-Korean reconciliation process and its impact on North Korea's NLL violations. The third section analyzes why North Korea's economic crisis in the 1990s was conducive to a rise in North Korea's NLL violations. A summary and some policy implications are given in the final section.

The Inter-Korean Reconciliation Process and North Korea's NLL Provocations

The 1953 Armistice Agreement to end the Korean War included only the landbased military demarcation line (MDL), leaving a maritime border as an unsettled question among the concerned parties, including the U.S.-led United Nations, North Korea, and China. The United Nations military forces, with superior naval and air power, felt urged to control their operations in the West and East Sea, and thus the NLL was set up in 1953 by a unilateral measure of the U.S.-led United Nations military forces. From then on, the NLL became the de facto maritime border between the two Koreas, but the cease-fire did not end military conflicts on the Korean Peninsula and in its surrounding waters.6 Arguing for the need to redraw the maritime border, North Korea has instigated numerous provocations around the waters near the NLL by kidnapping or sinking South Korean fishing boats and navy vessels.

As the Cold War drew to a close in the 1980s, a turning point was reached in the relations between the two Koreas. In 1991, South and North Korea signed the "InterKorean Basic Agreement"-the Agreement on Reconciliation, Non-Aggression and Exchanges and Cooperation between the South and North-opening a new era of inter-Korean economic cooperation. As for the NLL, the agreement provides that "until the decision on the maritime demarcation line is final, the nonaggression areas of the sea shall be those that have been followed by each side until the present time. …

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