Much to the displeasure of the international community, the accelerated pace of nuclear and missile testing in North Korea as well as the gradual sophistication of the devices tested have now shown what many have warned against long ago: North Korea’s nuclear program has little to do with domestic regime stability and we must stop viewing it as such. The obsession with the “young leader trying to legitimize his position” only diverts our attention from the real challenge, namely the reality that our North Korea policies continue to fail. In retrospect, the Obama administration’s strategic patience, or rather their muddling through, might have worked for the two presidential terms but is highly unsustainable as a long-term policy and we have seen various task forces in recent months being summoned to design new US-North Korea policies, independently of what the elections might bring. In South Korea under Park Geun-hye, on the other hand, we have witnessed a display of initiatives, with the “Trustpolitik” finally evolving into a ‘no-dialog-sanctions-only’ approach after the fourth nuclear test last January.
In the meantime, we continue to look to China as the omnipotent fixer who thanks to the historical relationship and current economic support could – but as is apparent, for geopolitical reasons, will not – solve the problem once and for all. Yet there are other countries, too, with the legacy of a relationship with North Korea as close as teeth and lips (chun chi xiang yi) that we might look at – the former East European socialist bloc. Their transition processes have recently been avidly examined by South Korean scholars, who seek to extract lessons-learned for the Korean re-unification. But there is much more to their Cold war legacy that should be acknowledged as a reservoir to draw from when re-thinking North Korea policies. Looking at the case of Czechoslovakia, for instance, the decades-long friendship cemented with socialist fraternity may not be all forgotten. Its revival – admittedly, under new terms – might offer some highly needed alternatives to approach North Korea, especially in track 1.5 diplomacy.
About the Speaker:
Jana Hajzlerova is the Director of the Czech-Korean Society, a Czech NGO established in 1990 to support cooperation between the Czech Republic and both Koreas. She holds an MA in media studies and a BA in Korean studies, both from the Charles University in Prague where she is currently working towards her Ph.D., focusing on frames and ideology in North Korean media. She has worked and consulted for governments and private companies on issues pertaining to the Korean peninsula, especially on the inter-Korean relations, and on the business and political environment in both Koreas. This year, she was awarded the Junior Korean Unification Experts Fellowship by the ROK’s Ministry of Unification and invited to join the Korea-Europe Next Generation Policy Network run by the Chatham House and the Korea Foundation. Besides her academic activities, she has worked on various engagement initiatives with North Korea, most recently on the DMZ Academy – the first international art symposium to be held in Pyongyang next year.