Securitizing Cooperation: Nuclear Politics and Inter- Korean Relations

By Milani, Marco | North Korean Review, Spring 2018 | Go to article overview

Securitizing Cooperation: Nuclear Politics and Inter- Korean Relations


Milani, Marco, North Korean Review


Introduction

Relations between North and South Korea represent one of the major security issues and sources of tension, not only for the Korean Peninsula, but also for the region as a whole. In the last 25 years, Pyongyang's nuclear and missile program has become cause for global concern, particularly in terms of the possible proliferation and threat of regional instability, which some fear may result from a nuclear North Korea. given the paramount importance that the international community has placed on the nuclear issue, every other aspect of inter-Korean relations has been highly influenced by the increasing security concerns. Besides the North Korean nuclear program, the broader "North Korean issue" includes other aspects, which transcend nuclear concerns and mainly affect the relations between the two Koreas and the lives of the population of both the North and the South.

The three main components of the "North Korean issue" are: North Korea's nuclear and missile program; humanitarian aspects (human rights abuses, humanitarian assistance and defectors); and inter-Korean relations. In recent years, the global resonance of the nuclear program has gained paramount importance compared to the other two components, in turn affecting the process of inter-Korean cooperation in a detrimental way. Although, nowadays, it seems that denuclearization and inter-Korean relations cannot be tackled separately, over recent decades, these two aspects have followed different paths, eventually converging under the government of Lee Myung- bak and Park geun- hye.

The purpose of this article, therefore, is to analyze the parallel development of the nuclear issue and inter-Korean relations after the end of the Cold War, through the theoretical framework of securitization, in order to assess the consequences of this process on the possibilities for dialogue and cooperation. After 2007, in fact, the South Korean government decided to place a major emphasis on the resolution of the nuclear issue as a prior condition for any advancement in terms of inter- Korean relations, reversing the trend of the previous progressive administrations, which tried to desecuritize the relations between Seoul and Pyongyang. This article aims to address the question of how this process of securitization has affected inter- Korean relations. Regarding the "North Korean issue," securitization has taken the form of a strict linkage between the military security concern of the nuclear program and inter-Korean relations, which also include several aspects that do not pertain to the domain of security, such as economic and cultural cooperation. Indeed, considering denuclearization as a prior condition translates inter-Korean cooperation into the language and means of security, thus subordinating it to the military aspects. This paper argues that this linkage has been ineffective in reducing the traditional security threat of the North Korean nuclear program, and counterproductive for inter-Korean cooperation, undermining the process of national reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula.

The main reason for this negative outcome lies in the fact that the "North Korean issue" cannot be treated as a unitary security concern. The different components of the broader issue, albeit interconnected, do not overlap and therefore cannot be addressed all together with the same instruments. Similarly, different actors have different interests and goals, and pursue different strategies in dealing with Pyong - yang's regime. Recognizing the complexity of the "North Korean issue" is crucial in order to design and implement effective policies aimed at reducing the security concerns and, at the same time, enhance cooperation and dialogue on the peninsula.

In order to address the aforementioned puzzle, the first part of this paper explains the theoretical framework of securitization and its consequences for nontraditional security issues when they become "securitized. …

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