Genuine Engagement with Kim 8/27/14

Why and How the U.S. Should Engage North Korea Right Now
By Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

U.S. relations with North Korea have been pushed into the background by events in the Middle East. But the so-called “North Korea nuclear issue”—“so-called” because the larger issue, which involves the interests of several countries, is security and strategic stability on the Korean peninsula—remains unresolved and potentially dangerous.

I and many other specialists have urged the U.S. and other governments to genuinely engage North Korea. But engagement doesn’t just mean contact or involvement; it means a process that includes reaching out to an adversary in efforts to catalyze new directions for policies on all sides.

Genuine, effective engagement should: Create a political environment conducive to policy change, focus on joint actions that will move the parties from destructive conflict to collaborative transformation, involve incentives and mutual rewards in security and peace, and be undertaken in a spirit of mutual respect. Only genuine engagement with North Korea holds out hope of settling the nuclear issue and easing tensions that could again engulf the Korean peninsula in war.

In April 2014, David Sanger reported in the New York Times that President Obama’s North Korea specialists feel “stuck” on where to go next with North Korea, having explored every option. However, what the Obama administration has offered during its six years in office is not engagement but sticks and carrots based on North Korean concessions: If North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons, the United States will then have dialogue with its leadership. But engaging North Korea should not be exclusively about North Korean denuclearization. It should above all be about enhancing security for parties with interests in the Korean peninsula, such that nuclear weapons become irrelevant for strategic or political purposes.

There are many strategic reasons why the U.S. should initiate win-win engagement with North Korea, but here are just three.
First, every time North Korean leaders feel threatened or ignored, they undertake a weapons test or other provocative action, such as the July 2014 threat of nuclear attack on the White House, provoked by U.S.-ROK (South Korea) military exercises. Those exercises may seem like standard procedures to us, but to the North Koreans, they are a reminder of their vulnerability. In November 2002, Kim Jong-il sent a written personal message to President George W. Bush that said: “If the United States recognizes our sovereignty and assures nonaggression, it is our view that we should be able to find a way to resolve the nuclear issue in compliance with the demands of a new century. … If the United States makes a bold decision, we will respond accordingly.” That position has been restated a number of times since, and nonaggression assurances are best made through dialogue.
Second, by abandoning engagement, the U.S. strengthens the hand of those in North Korea’s leadership who doubt the usefulness of negotiations, and prevents opportunities for dialogue with leaders who want to reduce tensions and gain concessions. According to Charles Pritchard, in an October 2003 Brookings editorial, Kim Jong-il told Madeleine Albright in October 2000 that, with U.S. security assurances, “he would be able to convince his military that the United States was no longer a threat and then be in a position to refocus his country’s resources.” There is no reason to think Kim Jong-un does not possess comparable authority and similar goals.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, engagement increases opportunities for direct contact with the North Korean people. We have many examples of how appreciative Korean people have been when they receive meaningful help. Focusing on young people, as the Pyongyang Project does, may provide a framework of support for the critical projects that NGOs carry out and potential transformations within the country.
North Korea is just as tired of talk for talk’s sake as the United States is. It too won’t “buy the same horse twice.” Fruitful negotiations can proceed only if Pyongyang sees engagement as strengthening regime and state survival. North Korea would most likely be interested in proposals that:

– Provide some assurance against U.S.-designed regime change.
– Enhance North Korea’s legitimacy as an independent socialist state.
– Provide international guarantees of North Korea’s security and eventually end sanctions.
– Pave the way for long-term development assistance, increased trade and investment, and short-term food and fuel aid, thus also reducing dependence on China.
– Undermine arguments in South Korea and Japan for keeping open the nuclear-weapon option.

The United States and other nations should present a package to North Korea that, in return for verifiable steps to neutralize North Korea’s nuclear arsenal, provides the North with security assurances, a proposal for ending the Korean War and signing a nonaggression pact with big-power guarantees (with China and Russia on board), and meaningful economic assistance from both NGOs and governments.

We have to accept the fact that the Kim regime is not going to just go away. Washington expectations that the regime will either self-destruct or wither away under outside pressure are mostly wishful thinking; by every indication Kim Jong-un remains firmly in command. If the U.S. and its allies continue to assume imminent regime change and a disengaged, zero-sum approach, they will embolden the most hawkish of North Korean leadership, providing them with “evidence” that more nukes provide the only real security against an untrustworthy America.

To be sure, engagement of the North does not guarantee its good behavior or friction-free interaction. But we should seriously explore what North Korean officials have long insisted: that if the United States abandons its “hostile policy,” the nuclear issue and much else can be resolved. We should test that view, one step—and one incentive—at a time.

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University, Editor-in-Chief of Asian Perspective, an international affairs quarterly, and blogs at In the Human Interest.

 

How We Can Help 8/6/14

War’s Other Casualties: The Situation in Gaza and the Global Refugee Crisis
by Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

By the time John Kerry left Tel Aviv and a 12-hour ceasefire began on July 26, 2014, the body count in Gaza had reached 856 Palestinians and 40 Israelis dead, as well as several thousand wounded. Now, the Palestinian toll has exceeded 1,000. Left out of the casualty figures, but no less important, are all the people who have been forced from their homes and have become refugees in their own country. This reality, that war’s heaviest impact is on civilian populations, is often obscured by its frequency. People flee as the bombs fall; another refugee camp is set up to house thousands of them; and thousands more line the roads leading to another country. How often have we read such reports?
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) says there are around 5 million Palestinians in the Middle East who count as refugees, making them the world’s largest refugee population. About a third of them are registered with the agency in 58 camps located in Gaza, the West Bank and surrounding countries. The other two-thirds are not in camps. Except for those living in Jordan, Palestinians are stateless; they do not have citizen rights, whether in Israeli-occupied territory or in Syria and Lebanon.
With the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the figure for Palestinian refugees is rising again. It draws our attention to the desperate worldwide refugee situation. The main United Nations refugee organization—UNHCR, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees—provides statistics and, along with numerous nongovernmental organizations, various forms of relief. Its 2013 report gives a total worldwide refugee population of around 11.7 million, of whom UNHCR assists about 8.5 million. That figures does not include a staggering 24 million IDPs (internally displaced persons) who, like the refugees, overwhelmingly live in the Middle East and Africa. When all types of forcibly displaced persons are counted, the global figure is over 45 million, the highest total in twenty years.
You can imagine what the costs of helping all these people must be, and how increasingly difficult it must also be to raise adequate funds when the problem keeps growing and when so many other global issues compete for money. At the end of 2013 UNHCR’s budget called for around $5.3 billion. Yet, it only raised about 60 percent of that amount from governments and private sources. (The US, at 36 percent; Japan, at nine percent; and the European Union at seven percent are the top three governmental donors. Private donations account for seven percent of all funding.)

Keeping up with the world refugee crisis is virtually impossible. Just look at what has happened in the Middle East this year. Millions of Syrians and Iraqis have fled to neighboring countries or calmer parts of their own country (such as Kurdish territory in Iraq). Many Iraqi families have become refugees for the second or third time in recent years. Afghan refugees, numbering 2.6 million, are stranded in Pakistan and Iran. Meanwhile, in Africa, very large numbers of people from Somalia, Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Eritrea have also been forced to flee. The strain on the budgets of host countries is enormous, and the stresses that providers must face as they try to meet basic needs are huge. Moreover, refugee camps are fertile ground for gangs, recruitment by terrorist groups and political factions, and fights over scarce resources.

And let’s remember that “refugees,” as politically defined, does not include migrant workers and their family members – although it should. Consider, in the US alone, the roughly three million undocumented migrants from Mexico and beyond as the many thousands of children who have crossed the border alone from Central America. They aren’t exactly receiving a warm welcome from Texans and Arizonans–though I’m pleased to note that the governor of Oregon has declared those children are welcome here.

Or take the North Koreans who manage to cross the border with China to escape horrendous repression. They must somehow blend in with the Korean Chinese population; but if they are caught and returned to China, they are treated as migrants and thus denied the rights granted to refugees under international law. We need to remind ourselves that ever since the enormous refugee problem at the end of World War II, refugees who have “a well-founded fear of persecution” have the right to resettlement in another country, and cannot be sent back by the receiving country. Tell that to Beijing.

Interested in helping? Mercy Corps, Catholic Relief Services, Save the Children, Doctors Without Borders, Oxfam, CARE, and the International Committee of the Red Cross are among the many relief organizations that are doing wonderful work. Global Corps offers a full list of organizations working with civilians suffering under the thumb of violence, and we can all help. When the elephants dance, the grass gets trampled, as they say. If we can’t immediately end the violence or reconcile the parties, we must, at least, care for the people most affected.

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University, and Editor-in-Chief of the international affairs quarterly Asian Perspective, and blogs at In the Human Interest.

Safe Terrain 8/6/14

Political Will Is the Obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian Peace

by Mel GurtovUnknown-1

One of the cardinal lessons of international conflict resolution is that two warring parties will not be interested in a peaceful settlement if they believe continuing to fight is worth more than negotiating.

John Kerry faced this truth as he struggled to broker something more meaningful in Gaza than a few hours or days of so-called peace. Unfortunately for him, both Israeli and Hamas leaderships came to believe that peacemaking on their terms would yield few gains, whereas fighting might achieve gains that had been unachievable before. As Jimmy Carter said in his 1979 speech to the Knesset, “The people support a settlement. Political leaders are the obstacles to peace.”

Reports from Israel point to an increasing conviction among its leaders that now is the time to eliminate Hamas once and for all. The tunnels have to be entirely wiped out and the rockets silenced. Hamas’ leadership has to be discredited. Gaza has to have a permanent Israeli military presence. For Hamas, continued fighting justifies its existence and establishes its legitimacy as a negotiating partner. Fighting is also the only way, apparently, Hamas leaders see to end Israel’s blockade of Gaza, open border crossings with Egypt, and thus free Gazans from the economic squeeze that has dramatically reduced their quality of life.

For both sides, and especially for the innocent people who are paying the highest costs for more fighting, this war is particularly anguishing because it was avoidable, as Nathan Thrall of the International Crisis Group recently argued in his July 17, 2014 New York Times editorial. Thrall pointed a finger at Israel, with US support, for obstructing the reconciliation agreement reached by the PLO and Hamas last April, which might have laid the groundwork for a new peace accord with Israel. Hamas was in a weakened condition then, and agreed to put the Palestinian Authority in the driver’s seat in Gaza as it is in the West Bank. A few generous acts by Israel and the US at that time might have produced entirely different reactions when the kidnappings and murders occurred earlier this month.

In his July 27, 2014 New York Times editorial, David Grossman, Israeli author of The Yellow Wind and other outstanding books on Israeli-Palestinian differences, suggested it may finally be dawning on Israelis of diverse political persuasions that there are no winners in war, and that Israel must negotiate with Hamas. He wrote in the name of a common humanity as well as a deep conviction that Israel’s leadership has failed its people by rejecting a peace that has long been within reach. But nobody in Tel Aviv is listening. Benjamin Netanyahu seems to believe that war is the answer—that somehow, contrary to all the historical evidence about resistance movements, the civilian and military survivors of Israel’s attacks will accept their fate and allow the occupying power to do what it wants. Netanyahu and his supporters will be proven wrong, but before that happens, the suffering of Israelis and Palestinians alike will continue.

And what of the US role? The Israeli air attacks have been met with “understanding” by the President, the Secretary of State, and other high US officials. Yes, they have expressed “concern” about the “heartbreaking” toll on the Palestinians these attacks have caused—over 1,888 dead and 9,000 wounded last I looked. Israel has lost 63 soldiers and 3 civilians. Public and Congressional opinion in the US seems to support the official view that Hamas is to blame for this latest round of conflict, so Obama is just where he wants to be—on politically safe terrain.

Kerry said the US goal in Gaza was “an unconditional humanitarian cease-fire.” But the Israelis were never really interested in Kerry’s cease-fire efforts, minimal though they were, until they had achieved their military objectives. As was reported by the Associated Press on Saturday, August 2nd, Netanyahu upbraided the US ambassador to Israel by saying the Obama administration should never “second guess me again” on dealing with Hamas. You have to hand it to Netanyahu; he knows how to manipulate the Israel-US relationship to his advantage. He knows how rarely Washington follows up its “concern” about Israeli military and political actions with any withdrawal or reduction of support. Thus, he lets the US leadership fret (or pretend to fret) for awhile, and engage in endless shuttle diplomacy, while he goes about his business. Already, Washington has announced a resumption of $225 million in aid to Israel for its antimissile system, and you can bet more will be forthcoming.

The US approach to a Middle East peace, like Israel’s and Hamas’ approaches, is one-sided and doesn’t effectively address the core obstacles that have bedeviled diplomacy for decades. A just peace would mean Israeli-Palestinian sharing of authority over Jerusalem, with assured access to all religions; mutual recognition by Israel and the new Palestinian state of each other’s sovereignty and right to exist; compensation to Palestinian refugees; and a land-for-peace formula that would swap arable land annexed by Israel for an equal amount of land Israelis have settled, allowing for creation of a contiguous Palestinian state. Jimmy Carter’s Geneva Initiative and Tikkun magazine’s Geneva Accord are among the sources that demonstrate that a just peace can be constructed if only the various parties have the will to do so. What is lacking to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian peace is not so much a fair and viable plan as the political will to carry it out.

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University and blogs at In the Human Interest.

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