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[Editorial] ‘Peace’ out

Utilize experience of all who have dealt with NK officials for strong intelligence

March 11, 2024 - 05:31 By Korea Herald

The Foreign Ministry is set to downsize and revamp an office in charge of diplomacy related to North Korean nuclear issues amid a prolonged stalemate in dialogue with Pyongyang.

The Office of Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs, led by a vice ministerial level official, was established 18 years ago in a whirlwind of nuclear diplomacy with the North through six-party talks among the two Koreas, the US, China, Russia and Japan. It was set up as a temporary agency, but was made a permanent one in 2011 to deal with Pyongyang’s growing nuclear arsenal. The six-party talks have not resumed since the last round of meetings in 2007, and the head of the office has since worked on diplomacy with the US, China and Japan over North Korean nuclear issues.

The office, consisting of a North Korean Nuclear Affairs Bureau and a Korean Peninsula Peace Regime Bureau, with four divisions under them, will be replaced by what is tentatively named the Office of Strategy and Intelligence, comprising three divisions under a single bureau, and led by a director-general. The new Office will focus on building diplomatic strategies and analyzing information.

With the envisioned changes, included in the ministry’s 2024 policy report to the presidential office made on Thursday, the word “peace” will be removed from the ministry’s organizational chart. There has been no dialogue over the North’s nuclear issue since the second US-North Korea summit talks in Hanoi in February 2019 faltered and the following working-level talks broke off in October that year. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has since escalated threats and increased the frequency of missile tests.

The Unification Ministry also went through similar reorganization last year, greatly downsizing divisions overseeing the South's exchanges and cooperation with the North, and reinforcing analysis of developments in the North and intelligence gathering.

With Kim Jong-un having defined inter-Korean relations as that of two enemy states, and vowing to delete from its constitution the concept that South Koreans and North Koreans are one people, there is nothing much of a dialogue that Seoul can formally seek.

The Seoul government is considering revising the National Community Unification Formula, or the South’s idea of unification unveiled 30 years ago in August 1994 under late President Kim Young-sam, to reflect the values of liberal democracy as well as the North Korean nuclear issue and human rights violations. The Seoul government is also crafting a new plan for unification with the North.

It is engraved in South Korea’s Constitution that the country shall seek unification, and formulate and carry out a policy of peaceful unification based on the principles of freedom and democracy.

While it should continue to seek the ultimate goal of unification, the South, by its Constitution, cannot compromise on its principles of freedom and democracy in the process.

Countless pieces of evidence and testimony collected by the international community have shown that Pyongyang has resorted to human rights violations to keep the regime from collapsing. Turning a blind eye to the regime’s crimes against humanity runs against the core of the Republic of Korea.

Also, despite 10 years of the South’s Sunshine Policy, the North never stopped expanding its nuclear arsenal. Official recognition as a nuclear state like India or Pakistan has been the unwavering goal of the Kim regime, which announced in 2003 that it would no longer be bound by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

There is little reason to maintain the size of divisions that have practically no work, but behind-the-scenes efforts must go on to bring Pyongyang back to negotiations for denuclearization and easing of tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

With the world having entered what some call a new Cold War era, and Pyongyang expanding defense ties with Moscow, rigorous strategizing based on strong intelligence has become more important than ever. In that process, the Seoul government should utilize the experience and knowledge of all those who have met or dealt with key members of the North Korean regime, who normally remain in power as long as they are alive. Like in everything else, a pragmatic approach is required in dealing with the North.