[Press Release_The Korea Times] Good Deal, Bad Deal or No Deal

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Good deal, bad deal or no deal

Posted : 2021-04-01 17:13

Updated : 2021-04-22 15:40

By Yun Byung-se

Yun Byung-se

"It is peace for our time, peace with honor," British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain declared to jubilant crowds in London upon his return from Munich on Sept. 30, 1938. Early that morning, the leaders of the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy had signed an agreement in Munich. It allowed Hitler's Germany to annex Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia.

Czechoslovakia had no choice but to swallow it. This agreement fell apart in less than a year, when Hitler invaded Poland in September 1939. As Winston Churchill had warned Chamberlain, it ended up with a "war and dishonor." For this reason, the Munich Agreement became a byword for the futility of unprincipled appeasement policies ever since.

History repeated itself when the Paris Peace Accords were signed on Jan. 27, 1973, by representatives of North and South Vietnam, the Viet Cong, and the U.S. Reunification "through peaceful means" was a key element of the accords.

It took only two months before hostilities resumed. Just two years later, the deal collapsed along with South Vietnam under North Vietnam's offensives in April 1975. President Nixon's promise for "peace with honor" ended up with "armed conflicts and dishonor." April 30 became the "Day of Infamy" as well as the reunification day.

In both occasions, even bogus peace was short-lived, to put it mildly. It was anything but genuine and lasting, and far from peace.

The Korean Peninsula has accumulated its own archive of fleeting peace deals and nuclear deals between South and North Korea as well as among the regional parties.

As to the nuclear deals, more than seven deals were signed but fell apart each time due to non-compliance by North Korea. Their life-cycles range from about two months to eight years with some in indefinite hibernation. The latest deal, the Singapore Joint Statement between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un in June 2018, is awaiting the verdict of the Biden administration.

Other preceding peace deals between the two Koreas, as well as between Washington and Pyongyang, are mostly things of the past. Some of them, including the most praised Basic Agreement between the two Koreas of 1992, are defunct, while recent ones have little or no prospect of progress in the foreseeable future.

Paradoxically, the longest serving agreement in this regard is the 1953 Korean Armistice Agreement, which has maintained the semblance of peace for the last seven decades despite countless violations by North Korea, leaving the prospect of any permanent peace agreement with a big question mark.

Very soon, the Biden administration will announce the final outcome of its policy review. During his press conference in Seoul, Secretary of State Antony Blinken remarked that both pressure options and the potential for future diplomacy would be included in the review.

Regarding future diplomacy, some U.S. opinion makers are now suggesting interim deals of some kind. The Biden team may not rush to take such suggestions, especially when North Korea is testing U.S. resolve again with new rounds of missile provocations. Nevertheless, diplomacy is expected to be one tool for North Korea policy.

As to whether to push for another deal with North Korea or not, however, there is a big divide both in South Korea and the U.S. in light of the endless non-compliance and cheating by North Korea. It begs a key question. Do we have the resolve and commitment to make a sustainable good deal to match our principles of denuclearized peace? Or should we be resigned to a bad deal that may bring transient peace but legitimize a nuclearized North Korea?

In close consultation with the U.S. in 1994, South Korea finally went along with the Geneva Agreed Framework signed by the U.S. and North Korea. But then-President Kim Young-sam, rightly or wrongly, criticized this deal as naive and half-baked until the last minute and predicted it would "bring more danger and peril." The collapse of the framework in 2002 and the ensuing second North Korean nuclear crisis proved his instinct right, though not necessarily his reasoning.

The fateful "Leap Day Deal" of 2012 set a new record as the shortest-ever U.S.-North Korea deal with a life of just two months. U.S. trauma therefrom lingered for quite a long while with the so-called negotiation fatigue, prolonging its policy of strategic patience, until another controversial joint statement in Singapore in June 2018.

Fortunately, President Trump was saved from winning another disgraceful title of becoming a signatory to a small deal of "no peace and dishonor," that could have almost decoupled the security of decades-long allies. His negotiators' tough demands for a more comprehensive bargain led to no deal, to the shock of Chairman Kim.

If President Biden sticks to his principled position of denuclearization of North Korea and if Kim does not change his course, Kim might not ever meet his new U.S. counterpart and have to be content with reminiscing on the good old days of the "Last Tango in Singapore" with Trump.

After the collapse of South Vietnam in 1975, President Gerald Ford issued a regretful statement: "History must be the final judge of that which we have done or left undone, in Vietnam and elsewhere. Let us calmly await its verdict."
South Korea, allied to the U.S., is no comparison for South Vietnam of the 1970s or Czechoslovakia of the 1930s. However, both South Korea and the U.S. should learn from the lessons of history to avoid policy mistakes, especially in the second nuclear age with the possibility of a nuclear conflict.

What the Biden administration will have done or left undone in the coming months and years together with its allies, including through a new North Korea policy, will also be given a verdict by history. I am sure that his team will be on the right side of history, keeping the "peace and honor."

Yun Byung-se is former foreign minister of South Korea. He is now a board member of the Korea Peace Foundation and a member of several ex-global leaders' forums and task forces, including the Astana Forum and its Consultative Council as well as the Task Force on U.S. Allies and Nuclear Weapons Proliferation sponsored by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

Yun Byung-se, a former foreign minister of South Korea (2013-17), is now Chairman of Seoul International Law Academy (SILA), a board member of the Korea Peace Foundation and a member of several ex-global leaders' forums and task forces, including the Astana Forum and its Consultative Council.


Byung Se Yun, "Good deal, bad deal or no deal." The Korea Times, April 01, 2021, https://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/nation/2021/04/113_306451.html