Introduction to the Research Work/Report. North Korea’s relationship with South Korea has determined much of its post-World War II history and still strengthens much of its foreign policy. North and South Korea have had a difficult and an unfriendly relationship due to the Korean War. In recent years, North Korea has pursued a mixed policy that seeks to develop economic relations with South Korea and to win the support of the South Korean public for greater North-South engagement while at the same time continuing to denounce the Republic of Korea’s security relationship with the United States and maintaining a threatening conventional force posture on the demilitarized zone and in adjacent waters.
The military demarcation line of separation between the belligerent sides at the close of the Korean War divides North Korea from South Korea. A demilitarized zone extends for 2,000 meters on either side of the military demarcation line. Both the North and South Korean governments hold that the military demarcation line is only a temporary administrative line, not a permanent border.
After 1953, both Korean governments have repeatedly affirmed their desire to reunify the Korean Peninsula. But until 1971 the two governments had no direct, official communications or other contact. (Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, 2010)
Tension started to mount on the Korean peninsula. North and South Korea have clashed twice over their boundary in the Yellow (West) Sea. The issue is quite complicated, resulting from differences over the validity of the northern limit line and the appropriate maritime boundary, exacerbated by competition for valuable blue crab. This paper describes the incidents and the issues, analyzes the boundary or territorial disputes, and proposes possible solutions to this dangerous situation.
Purpose and Background of the Study
The conflict of North and South Korea is an age-old issue, one that has always been at the forefront of all territorial disputes. For a while, it seems to have faded into the shadows of other contemporary issues, but with the onset of fears surrounding the possible retaliation of one over the other’s actions, the world has once again set its eye on the Korean peninsula.
Understanding this long-standing clash is a must for any scholar of Consular and Diplomatic Affairs. It is a multi-faceted issue that can affect the tides of the international system. Whenever the two states are at odds-more so than the usual-countries all over the world take sides. Also, as International Political Geography students, it is a prime example of how geography truly affects politics. The 38th parallel is one of the most iconic symbols of geographical conflict, a line that separates a people that was once united by the same flag.
By opening this issue to deeper discussion, debate, and dialogue, the United Nations may perhaps find a way to encourage both sides to either unite or live harmoniously. Status quo, saying otherwise, may be changed. And perhaps, in the same way that its schism has affected the world, its union may shape it as well.
Chronology of Events/Detailed Discussion
During the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) the Japanese began a move to dominate the peninsula of Korea. With modern weapons and a westernized military, the Japanese easily defeated the Chinese, forcing the Chinese to give up Formosa (modern day Taiwan), and also demanding that China recognize Korea as an independent state. The western powers, who, molded by the era, were all fairly racist, were shocked at Japan’s military prowess, modernization, and apparent imperialist desires. Japan did have designs on Korea, and the Russians feared the Japanese might next set their sights on Manchuria, which caused Russia considerable concern. Russian and Japanese competition over Manchuria and Korea led to the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905).
The Japanese fought remarkably well in this major war and defeated the Russian navy. US President Teddy Roosevelt stepped in to mediate the Treaty of Portsmouth, which ended the war. The treaty, signed in 1905, allowed Japan to make Korea a protectorate. In 1910 Japan annexed Korea as a formal colony, useful for its agricultural output and mineral deposits.
After the 1917 Communist Revolution in Russia that formed the Soviet Union (USSR), the Russian presence in northeast Asia dwindled somewhat. Japan, on the other hand, became very aggressive, and even sent the Kwantung Army to protect Japanese interests in Manchuria against the Russians. In 1931-1932, the Kwantung Army decided to invade Manchuria of its own volition, setting up a puppet state called “Manchuko.”
In 1937, Japan declared war on China, and also began an attempt to “Japanize” Korea by replacing Korean culture with Japanese culture. During World War II, Korea essentially became a labor camp for the Japanese, with Koreans living under armed guard.
On August 10, 1945, after the US dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan offered surrender in World War II. Soviet troops, part of the Allied forces, immediately began pouring into Korea. The US was appalled, and moved quickly to prevent all of Korea from becoming a Soviet satellite state. Dean Rusk, then a Colonel in the army, selected the 38th Parallel as the line that would divide the American- controlled sector from the Soviet-controlled sector. General Douglas MacArthur announced the division of the Korea into two occupation zones in “General Order Number One”, which Stalin accepted. The US took control of South Korea, while the USSR controlled North Korea.
As US and USSR forces moved in, a coalition of Korean nationalists formed the Korean People’s Republic (KPR) as an interim government. Over time, the KPR became increasingly communist, and, through a policy of encouraging peasant seizure of Japanese property, extremely popular. The Soviet recognized the KPR, while the US did not. Kim Il-Sung, a Korean guerrilla leader from the 1930s, emerged as the leader of the pro-Soviet KPR in North Korea. In the south, Lt.-General John Reed Hodge, who had commanded XXIV Corps at Okinawa during World War II, oversaw the occupation of South Korea. Under Hodge, the American Military Government (AMG) became increasingly conservative. The AMG spokesperson was Syngman Rhee, a Korean nationalist just recently returned from a 33-year exile imposed by the Japanese.
By 1949, most of the US military had moved out. Only 500 advisors, known as KMAG (the Korean Military Advisory Group) remained in South Korea, under the command of Brigadier-General William L. Roberts. In January of 1950, the House defeated the Korean Aid Bill by a single vote; Korea was scheduled no to get American Aid for the following year, 1950.
On June 25, 1950 the North Korean army attacked South Korea, crossing the 38th Parallel. Pentagon officials were stunned, and had no immediate contingency plan ready. Some said little could be done, while others suggested it was the beginning of Stalin’s plot to take over the world. Truman and his circle of advisers sat firmly in this latter group. Immediately upon the invasion, these advisors discussed the prospect of sending General Douglas MacArthur, the US commander in the Far East, to lead a military response. The North Korean invaders hoped to take Seoul, the South Korean capital, as quickly as possible. The majority of ROK forces were routed by North Korean troops. Only one ROK division, the 6th, held its ground. John Muccio, the American ambassador to South Korea, quickly reported back to Washington that a “probable” full-scale attack was under way. Meanwhile, Syngman Rhee reacted to news of the invasion by ordering the imprisonment of more South Koreans.
The UN was particularly upset about the North Korean invasion, because it had overseen the elections held in 1948, and did not want to see a war undo that election. UN Secretary-General Trygve Lie called the invasion a “war against the United Nations.” Truman hoped to use the UN as an instrument of US power, and UNCOK (the UN Council on Korea) condemned the attack as a “breach of peace”. On Nov. 30, 1950, the UN passed a resolution condemning North Korea’s actions.
The ROK army was in dire straits, Truman relented and gave MacArthur authorization to transfer 2 full divisions from Japan to Korea. For roughly two-and-a-half months, MacArthur simply tried to prevent the North Korean army from taking Pusan. Meanwhile, the US conducted a strategic bombing campaign and blockaded the coastline with warships. While Navy and Air power had little effect, MacArthur did manage to attain his main goal of holding Pusan. Also, during this delay, MacArthur was able to transform his out-of- shape occupation force into an army. Trapped, backed into a corner against the sea, the situation continued to look bleak for the US/UN/ROK forces in South Korea. UN ground troops, under Lt.- general Walton H. Walker, commander of the UN ground troops in Korea, spent the bulk of their time working hard to build the “Pusan Perimeter”, a fortress- like series of entrenchments in southeastern Korea. Still, these entrenchments offered little chance for US/UN/ROK counteroffensive. The anti-communist forces seemed stuck.
North Koreans believing the US/UN/ROK forces trapped, MacArthur started to withdraw Marines from Pusan. He had planned a masterstroke, a daring amphibious assault on the Korean port of Inchon, halfway up the peninsula. MacArthur planned to use Inchon as a base to attack Seoul, and from there cut off supplies to the North Korean People’s Army (NKPA), which was then assaulting Pusan. This was a classic “pincer” move, intended to crush the North Koreans between the Eighth Army at Pusan and MacArthur’s troops landing at Inchon, X Corps. The North Korean army had been decimated. On September 29, Syngman Rhee was restored to power in Seoul.
Rather than stopping at the 38th Parallel, MacArthur, with American support, sent his forces north of the dividing line. Meanwhile, Zhou Enlai, the PRC Foreign Minister, promised that the PRC would defend North Korea and send troops across the Yalu if the US crossed the 38th Parallel. On July 17, the PRC attacked the Chinese nationalist held islands of Quemoy and Little Quemoy, which Americans viewed as a staging area for an invasion of Formosa. MacArthur travelled to Formosa on July 19; still, US leaders continued to view Zhou’s threats, which did not travel through official channels, as mere posturing.
On August 17, the US announced in the halls of the UN building its goal of unifying Korea. By late August, the US/UN/ROK forces were advancing further north in Korea, approaching the Chinese border. The accidental US/UN/ROK bombing of a Manchurian airfield just north of the Yalu River, which separates North Korea from Manchuria, further alarmed PRC leaders. On October 9, MacArthur sent his forces across the 38th Parallel near Kaesong, wanting to capture Pyongyang, the North Korean capital.
MacArthur felt that the North Korean army had been essentially destroyed by the middle of October, and, against the recommendations of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he sent his forces into the northernmost parts of North Korea. His troops were hit by surprise and decimated when Chinese Communists troops began attacking his forces. On October 25, the PRC made an attack on ROK soldiers and routed them at Pukchin. On November 1, the Chinese defeated American troops at Unsan, in the first Chinese-American combat of the war.
On his own, MacArthur decided to go even further in antagonizing the Chinese. In March, without consulting Washington, he decided to send an ultimatum to the PRC. MacArthur demanded that the Chinese withdraw their troops. If they didn’t, he promised to force China to its knees. Truman was incensed at MacArthur’s rogue attempt to define and influence US policy; he decided MacArthur had to be fired. Truman did not act immediately, however, and as he waited, in early April of 1951, Congress approved NATO, a sign that Truman’s Europe-first policy had been accepted. By this time the incident of the ultimatum had become worn-out, and Truman needed another reason to fire MacArthur.
Matthew Ridgway assumed MacArthur’s position and controlled America’s war effort from Tokyo. On April 22, the Chinese People’s Volunteers made a big push against the US/UN/ROK forces. Their aim was to recapture Seoul, but they didn’t even come close. A second offensive by the Communists in May fared even less well. Ridgway, having seen his forces pushed back a miniscule amount by two major Chinese offensives, decided the time was ripe for a US counteroffensive. By May 30, the US/UN/ROK forces were back at their entrenchments north of the 38th Parallel. By June 13, 1951, Operation Piledriver had succeeded in taking the Iron Triangle.
At the end of June 1951, Ridgway sent a broadcast throughout Korea asking for peace talks. Kim Il-sung and General Peng Teh-haui agreed to initiate talks at Kaesong, a site in no-man’s land near the 38TH Parallel. The Kaesong talks began on July 8. Although the Communists suggested a cease-fire in the war while the talks went on, the US refused to accept the proposal. Thus, fighting continued as the negotiators haggled at Kaesong.
On July 27, 1953, The UN, China, and North Korea signed an armistice. South Korea refused to sign, but with little effect. Under the terms of the treaty neither side would be allowed to increase the number of non-Korean military personnel stationed in Korea. The armistice also established a 2.5 mile wide buffer between North and South Korea along the 38th parallel – the “demilitarized zone.”
Current Status of the Case
Exactly who won the Korean War? No conclusive winner emerged. Instead Korea returned to its “status quo ante bellum” – North and South Korea are still divided. In fact it was as if the war never really officially ended. Over the years, there have been border battles, espionage, assassination attempts, and terrorist acts between the two – American forces involved as well.
November 1987, a South Korean airliner kills 115 passengers and crew. Two North Korean spies were said to be the ones responsible. June 1999, six North Korean patrol boats repeatedly cross the Yellow Sea maritime border over the course of nine days, prompting an exchange of fire between the North and South Koreans. South Korea says 20 to 30 North Korean sailors are killed, while seven South Korean sailors were wounded.
November 2001, the first cross-border shooting between North and South Korea happened. A year later, North and South Korean naval vessels fought a twenty-minute gun battle in which 4 South Korean sailors died and 18 wounded near Yeonpyeong Island in the Yellow Sea. A South Korean frigate was sunk and a North Korean vessel sustained damage.
November 2009, a North Korean naval vessel entered South Korean waters, refused to return to the North, and then was brought under fire by the South Korean navy. And in March 2010, a South Korean naval ship sank, killing 45 South Korean sailors. South Korea blames the sinking of the ship on a North Korean torpedo launched from a North Korean submarine. North Korea denies any involvement with the sinking of the South Korean ship, and threatened “all out war” if South Korea retaliates. (Times Online, 2010)
Recently, North Korea has fired artillery shells onto a South Korean island across its disputed western maritime border, injuring civilians, soldiers and property. South Korea has returned fire and raised its military alert to its highest non-wartime status. The Northern Limit Line (NLL) is disputed by North Korea and comes as South Korea’s annual Hoguk military exercises get under way. The incident took place with renewed talks on North Korea’s nuclear programme, including revelations of an active uranium enrichment site and preparations for another nuclear test. Taken together, the nuclear demonstration and the attack are widely interpreted as an effort to bolster the credentials of Kim Jong-un, the heir apparent as the country’s leader, and the son and grandson of the only two men who have run the country. When his father, Kim Jong-il, North Korea’s ailing leader, was establishing his credentials, the North conducted a similar series of attacks. (Adnan Khan, 2010)
It is very difficult to attempt to solve the conflict between North and South Korea because of the numerous parties involved in the issue. On the side of South Korea, there is the United States, as well as the rest of the US’s democratic allies. North Korea is often backed up by its communist counterparts, the most powerful being China and Russia.
These alliances complicate the proceedings at the United Nations, because whenever the issue between North and South Korea is brought up, the respective states’ allies (all of whom are permanent members of the Security Council) simply veto the motions that are contradictory to their and their Korean allies’ vested interests. Enabling the UN in any other way is virtually impossible. The General Assembly is helpless, because it cannot bind states into enforcement. To ask the International Court of Justice to settle the dispute within its fence is virtually impossible, because the ICJ can only arbitrate cases that are brought forward by states-and they are not required to submit any case for hearing and decision.
Hence, because of the deficiencies of the available organs who technically have the power to end the conflict, it would only be logical to recommend a more radical and quite possibly controversial alternative solution. What is being proposed here now is to eliminate the external parties who seem to muddle the situation with their national interests in either North or South Korea. If it is possible, the UN could strongly recommend a bilateral agreement between the two states, and for them to settle their issues pacifically and with no intervention from other states.
In this settlement, North Korea may possibly give up some (if not all) of its nuclear armaments, which South Korea has continuously clamoured for, in favor of food aid from its capitalist neighbour. South Korea, on the other hand, will gain the nuclear-free atmosphere it has always wanted from its border counterpart. Initially, it may seem like North Korea is getting the better end of the deal, but by bending to the will of South Korea, it somehow decimates its supremacy, a sign of a weakened sovereignty, maybe. South Korea’s economy may have nothing to gain, but politically, it may become stronger than it already is.