Dear Fellow Human Security Classmates —

I recently took advantaged of my Hong Kong address to jump on a plane and visit the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea.  Our fellow Human Security student David Cafferty calls it -and not without reason- “the Disneyland of IR”. Indeed, I bought more souvenirs there than I’ve ever bought anywhere else and I found it to be a fascinating place. I have studied the DMZ in different classes, but the chance to visit really opened my eyes, especially with regard to the AP-Landmine treaty.

Being in South Korea is actually an amazing opportunity to talk to people. What struck me as intriguing was that everyone assumed that reunification will happen. It does not even seem to be an issue there. They consider themselves as one nation that ‘should’ be one country.  Of course, no South Korean I’ve met wanted the regime of Pyongyang to be in charge. Seoul is about 60 Km from the DMZ and every South Korean must spend two years in the army after high school, though they can postpone it until they finish college (which is a nice incentive to study!).  You can see a lot of soldiers around in the city. This increases one’s awareness of what the country goes through.

One of the many ironic parts about the DMZ is that South Koreans are not allowed to enter without a month-long background check. When talking to Mr L, among many other South Koreans, he gave me the standard answer to my question about visiting the DMZ — “I don’t want to go. There is nothing there for me. It’s an attraction for tourists.”   Maybe so, but even though they have every gift shop I can think of and even a roller coaster (no kidding!), it sure as hell doesn’t feel like a tourist attraction.

The Joint Security Area is where the UN building is located right on top of the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) which is the centre line of the DMZ, 2 Km from each side of the border. When you enter the DMZ you are escorted by two soldiers in a UN bus. This is after having signed an agreement stating that it is the ‘entry into a hostile area and possibility of injury or death as a direct result of enemy action’ is possible. Besides the legal mumbo jumbo that scares tourists in order to legally cover the UN’s back, it remains a serious threat and the 2 South Korean elite guards inside the joint conference room standing in a “relaxed” Taekwondo position are not there to amuse tourists. When talking to an American soldier, he explained that North Koreans don’t kid around and that some abuse often goes on when US or South Korean military hold a meeting in the room. Since the signing of the Armistice on the 17th of November 1954 over 50 Americans and over 500 South Koreans have died due to hostile North Korean action.

One of the main parts of the visit was going to what is called the 3rd tunnel. As it turns out, North Korea has tried to dig over 20 tunnels under the DMZ in order to enter South Korea. Sadly enough South Korea has only found 4 of them and mainly through the tips given by North Korean dissidents. It is suspected that this is how 31 elite soldiers from NK managed to get as far as the blue house [residence of the head of government] in the 90s in order to try to assassinate the president. [correction: even though I was told the tunnel was how these elite forces got in it appears a submarine might have been their way of entry].

When we talk about AP-landmines, we all think of some poor African kid who’s lost his leg. This is indeed a serious problem and no civilian should live under that fear. However, the DMZ is a 4 Km wide and is spread with 2 million landmines.  As it turns out the demilitarized zone is ironically the most militarized place on Earth and wisely so.  When one considers that North Korea has killed a couple of soldiers in the DMZ in the 1976 –the Panmunjom Axe Murder- and has tried to dig so many tunnels,  one is quite happy to know there are a couple million landmines between the two. The landmines have a function in this part of the world, they are not reminiscent from the Cold War left there by mistake.

It may not be surprising that countries like Canada and Sweden, that don’t need landmines, are quick to ban landmines from the face of the earth. However, when those landmines form a key barrier keeping at bay a totalitarian regime where each man spends about 10 years in the army and every women about 4, one is not so keen on wanting to ban them. Whether we like it or not those landmines have a role to play in that part of the world and they are not there out of a whim. If one thing has been made clear, it is that Kim Jong-il is not one for nuclear dissuasion and one can only wonder what he would have done if it were not for these landmines. For my part, I was quite happy to have them between me and them. Other parts of the world aside, on the Korean Peninsula, Landmines serve to protect real people from a real threat.

Paul-François Polidori


“South Korea to Give North Rice Despite Possible Failure to Meet Nuclear Deadline” — SEOUL, South Korea (AP)

South Korea will offer North Korea rice aid even though Pyongyang may miss a deadline for shutting down its atomic reactor under an international disarmament agreement, a South Korean official said Thursday.

Top Asian officials voiced concerns earlier this week that the North was unlikely to meet the April 14 deadline because of glitches in the transfer of North Korean money in a Macau bank that had been frozen because of U.S. allegations of money laundering.

The South “will give rice to the North as scheduled” after economic talks between the two countries set for April 18-21 in Pyongyang, Vice Unification Minister Shin Eon-sang told reporters. The North had requested 400,000 tons of rice from Seoul during high-level talks last month.

“The momentum for inter-Korean development should not be lost,” Shin said.

Seoul, a key aid donor to the North, had put off discussing the humanitarian assistance until the economic talks, planned just days after the April 14 deadline for Pyongyang to shut off its main nuclear reactor.

The timing for the aid was believed to add additional pressure on North Korea to comply with an international disarmament agreement. The North had pledged in February to shut down its sole operating nuclear reactor by mid-April in exchange for energy aid and other political concessions.

North Korea boycotted nuclear talks for more than a year due to its anger over Washington blacklisting a Macau bank where Pyongyang had about US$25 million (euro18.7 million). During that year, the North also conducted its first-ever nuclear test, in October.

Pyongyang only agreed to return to six-nation arms talks after the U.S. said it would address the financial issue. Washington said it would resolve the matter in 30 days after the North’s Feb. 13 pledge to take initial steps toward disarming.

After reading the above AP news piece, we pondered over how to apply various IR theoretical frameworks:

Marxists believe capitalists are exploiting the working class and there is a need to ‘intervene and regulate’ to address the brutality of capitalism. Perhaps North Korea is using its atomic reactor to ‘regulate’ the structural inequalities that exists between its own country and the capitalist world.

On the other hand, liberal institutionalists believe in institutionalizing peace and security. That may be the reason why South Korea has agreed to provide this rice donation despite the fact that North Korea has yet to fulfill its promise to shut down its atomic reactor.

What if South Korea adopted a ‘Constructivist’ attitude on this issue? The famous constructivist scholar, Alexander Wendt once noted that “anarchy is what states make of it.” If the global system is dominated by states, like North Korea, that see anarchy as a life or death situation, then the system will be characterized by warfare. Perhaps South Korea was aiming to change this characterization with its actions. In this sense, can we say that from a constructivist’s point of view, South Korea’s donation might in fact save the North from slipping into potential warfare?

Post by Kenneth Li and John Liauw (but posted by Alex)

After five rounds of painstaking discussions, North Korea has finally taken major steps toward disarmament.

In our class reading material “The Culture of National Security”, Jepperson, Wendt, and Katzenstein argue that state’s behaviors and character are affected by its cultural and institutional environment as well as material. Using this argument to analyze North Korea’s position can help us understand Kim’s behaviors.

Both North and South Korea have very nationalistic cultures. Historically, Korea has been a small and relatively weak country surrounded by China, Japan and Russia, an environment in which Korea is destined to feel insecure. In today’s case, Kim Jung Il should feel even more so. The world has moved on with North Korea as a vulnerable state without much resource, holding on to an ideology that has been a proven failure in many other nations. N.K.’s nationalistic posture today may be a result of its historical, ideological and cultural background.

Nuclear deterrence is the crucial pillar supporting N.K.’s national security. However, the agreement announced by the six nations in Beijing shows that N.K. has agreed to disarm in return for fuel aid, illustrating N.K. has decided to give up its most important bargaining chips for something material. This clearly demonstrates N.K.’s security decisions are also affected by material factors.

To many people, Kim’s actions seem completely irrational and insane, but if we take into consideration the environment in which N.K. is embedded, what he is doing makes sense. Kim’s strong stance on the surface precisely reveals his lack of confidence, and desire to portray a strong nation to the world. His, as well as the nation’s, security policy is shaped by historical, ideological, cultural, institutional as well as material factors.

Although the topic of this posting is “North Korea’s Culture of National Security”, it may be changed to “North Korea’s Culture of National INSecurity”.

A few questions,

1. Given Kim has seldom kept his promises, do you think this time North Korea is giving up its nuclear deterrence for real? If not, why did they agree to disarm?
2. After N. K. did its nuclear test in October 2006, the UN Security Council voted unanimously to impose sanctions on the country. The international community froze N.K.-related bank accounts, and blocked luxurious goods trades with N.K. Do you think the UN sanction plays a crucial role in North Korea’s disarmament?
3. In the event N.K. take major steps in integrating with the international community, what effect would it have on Kim’s regime in terms of controlling the country and remaining in power? 4. Why do you think Kim needs nuclear deterrence? Do you think his insecurity is cultural, institutional or material?
5. From Kim’s perspective, do you think he sees the nuclear scheme as a defensive or offensive strategy?

By Meryam and Ada