Why ‘Neither Peace, Nor War’ Is Most Likely Scenario for Korea

On Monday, May 29, North Korea conducted another Scud-type short-range ballistic missile test. A military projectile landed in the Sea of Japan, in Japan’s special economic zone. The test took place after G7 leaders, during their summit meeting in Italy, called on Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear ambitions. In an interview for valdaiclub.com, George Toloraya, Director at the Center for Asian Strategy at the Institute of Economics of the Russian Academy of Sciences commented on the situation following the launch of the North Korean missile.

According to the expert, sanctions against North Korea are inefficient. “They only make the regime more aggressive towards its enemies,” the Valdai Club expert said. “Imposing sanctions which are supposed to make the North Korean government think over is a naive and hypocritical move. Ordinary people are suffering from these measures, and this plan only seems to satisfy its initiators. In the past, it was explained by a hidden agenda. It was believed that putting pressure on North Koreans would lead to a rebellion against the hated regime and, in addition, the sanctions were supposed to complicate access to finance and technologies for the development of Pyongyang’s nuclear program. However, neither goal was achieved. North Korea continues to develop its nuclear missile program, and is going ahead technologically.”

The North Korean missile launch has predictably caused condemnation in Seoul. In Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said at an extraordinary session of the National Security Council that the international community has to persuade Pyongyang to stop provocations. But, as a matter of fact, the international community has no efficient leverage over Pyongyang, Toloraya believes.

“There is only one means available, and this is negotiations. If Americans opened dialogue with North Korea to mend their relations, everything would be solved,” he pointed out. “But the Americans are not willing to do it and they still count on the international community. China’s support of the North Korean leadership gives rise to a debate between Washington and Beijing. China understands clearly that no sanctions will force North Korea to change. However, Beijing has to pretend that it listens to American wishes, which sometimes fundamentally contradict its national interests.”

This lingering crisis will inevitably lead either to a war or to a table of negotiations, the Valdai Club expert believes. But war is unacceptable, because it will result in huge damage to all countries, including the United States. “War can begin, but only as a result of an accident. Now countries are to seek compromise. It means cessation of the North Korean nuclear program in exchange for concrete moves of South Korea and the United States. If South Korea hesitated over this question before, now Seoul stands for compromise. Thus, it is necessary to persuade Donald Trump. Most likely, this will not happen and the crisis will remain in a state of neither peace nor war”, the expert concluded.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.