By Laksiri Fernando –
What I mean by the UN in the title is particularly the UN Secretary General (SG). Where is he? What is he doing? What is his name? I am asking the last question because compared to the previous SGs, this person is conspicuously absent from his duties. A very few in the world would even know his name (António Guterres). He can be a good man and an innocent one, but that is not sufficient for the position.
We should also add the UN Commissioner of Human Rights to the UN list, particularly because this Prince (Zeid Al Hussein) was unnecessarily commenting on Donald Trump’s ‘unsuitability to the presidency’ during the American elections, but silent thereafter after Trump came to power. What a shame!
The evolving situation in the world today, in the Middle East and in the Korean Peninsula, has a direct relevance to human rights, more than anything else. If a conflict flares up, particularly in the Korean peninsula, possibly millions of people would die and become displaced. Even otherwise, from a human rights point of view, what is already happening in the Middle East, right down to the borders of the South Asian region in Afghanistan, is horrendous. The latest (15 April) is the dreadful suicide bombing in the al-Rashideen area, obviously by Islamist extremists, near Aleppo where over hundred have been killed, mostly women and children.
What are the purposes of the UN? Those are in brief, according to the Charter: (1) “To maintain international peace and security.” (2) “To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples.” (3) “To achieve international co-operation in solving international problems.” (3) “To be a Centre for harmonizing the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends.”
I am not imagining or inventing. I am quoting from the four paragraphs of Article 1 of the UN Charter. We do have a serious situation, as particularly the US and North Korea are threatening each other, and therefore, ‘peace and security’ in the region and beyond are under threat. Whatever the odds, the UN and the ‘international community’ (whatever the latter means), should try to ‘develop friendly relations between the countries involved in present hostilities. The UN should promote ‘international co-operation’ in solving these problems within and beyond the region. Otherwise, there is no point in calling it (the UN) ‘a Centre of harmonizing actions of the nations,’ as the Purposes of the Charter declares.
As China’s Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, stated day before yesterday (Nine News, Australia, 14 April), “a conflict over North Korea could break out at any moment.” He also added that “there will be no winners and only losers” which is absolutely true in this type of a war and particularly under the given conditions. In my last article (“Chemical Attacks in Syria and America’s Continued Military Campaign”), I pointed out that China should call an immediate session of the Security Council to possibly avert an emerging disaster. In this article, my focus is on the responsibilities of the Secretary General, not only in calling but also trying to avert such a disaster in all possible ways.
Under the existing rules of procedure, formally a meeting of the Security Council is called by its President. It can be on a request from a member or on his/her initiative. Under similar arrangements, the Presidency is rotated and this month (April) ironically the Presidency is with the United States of America! The current US representative to the UN is Nikki Haley, who in fact stated at the last meeting that ‘there should be a regime change in Syria.’ This is against the UN Charter and its principles. Under such circumstances, the SG has a special responsibility to call the Security Council and to take an active part in resolving the current imbroglio. Article 99 specifically says, “The Secretary-General may bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security.” The UN Secretary General’s role should be proactive and independent.
There is no question that North Korea is a tricky country. That is the only remaining old type communist country. It is possible to call other names; a ‘failed state’ or even a ‘rouge state,’ but that would not help to understand and change the situation. Of course, one can go beyond like Donald Trump, and call the Kim Jong-un as ‘evil,’ ‘butcher’ or ‘animal.’ That does not help either.
When two prominent scholars from South Korea, Jung Tae-hern and Han Jong-woo, edited the “Understanding North Korea: Indigenous Perspectives” (Lexington Books, 2014), containing contributions of sixteen South Korean scholars, they pertinently asked the following question. “Why have the two sides, members of the same people, diverged so drastically and become so hostile toward each other?” Addressing particularly the American readers, the question was explained further in the following manner.
“American readers might find it surprisingly ironic that the people of such disreputable country have shared, throughout nearly 5,000 years of its history, the same language, the blood line, and an identical culture with the people of South Korea, the very nation of the ‘Miracle on the Han River’ and an ‘important axis in the value-sharing US-ROK [South Korea] alliance.”
I am quoting from the first page itself. I am not sure whether Donald Trump ever reads books! But this is good for others and particularly for the Oxford graduate, Theresa May, or even Malcolm Turnbull, the two Prime Ministers (UK and Australia) whose support that Trump might be banking on in attacking North Korea. Do I consider America as the aggressor in this instance? Yes, I do. Otherwise, there was no point in Trump sending a highly sophisticated (nuclear powered) large battle carrier to the Korean Peninsula. This was before any provocation or belligerence from Pyongyang. North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, in defiance of the UN sanctions, should have been handled by the UN itself, and not by the US.
However, there is no question that a nuclear armed North Korea can be a threat to the stability in the region in the medium to long term. That is why the UN (the SG, the Secretariat and experts) should intervene without any bias to any side. The current situation can be harmful to North Korea itself. North Korea is not that sophisticated in its armaments, although the military/political determination is high, as evident by this year’s ‘Day of the Sun’ or Kim Il-Sung’s birthday celebrations. Immediately after the main event in Pyongyang, there had been a missile test (not so successful it seems) in Sinpo. The demonstration of ballistic missiles and speeches at the celebrations also were provocative. What is going on from both sides is a kind of tit-for-tat without any sense.
It is this author’s view that most of the conflicts in this world are largely (not totally) based on ‘imagined fears,’ ‘perceived threats’ and ‘unnecessary antagonisms.’ Some of them are also fabricated for vested interests of the involved parties and/or of outsiders.
How much China could do to appease the situation is controversial. There are efforts to pass the buck to China and even using coercion to do the bidding. It is true that China and North Korea were at the same wavelength aftermath of the revolutions/civil wars as communist countries. However, since 1978, under Deng Xiaoping first, China has been going in a different direction. Chinese and Koreans are different peoples. It would have been good, if China did better to influence North Korea. However, the circumstances were different.
China could influence North Korea economically, but not so much in politics. This is a well- balanced view of several experts. It is not correct to consider North Korea as a client state of China, based on their own perceptions or experiences by the Western countries. Kim Jong-un has never travelled to Beijing and there had been no summits between the two country leaders. One may say, it was a mistake on the part of China to be somewhat aloof, but that has been the case. If there is any influence to be done that must be a common effort through the UN. Given that premise, China might be able to play a pivotal role, but not under coercion. Economic sanctions are not a panacea as many Western advocates advocate in this case as well as other instances. They heart, not the regime/s but primarily the people.
The recent developments in North Korea have been contradictory, not in its bad sense but in a positive meaning. North Korea has been changing economically although slowly. Sebastian Berger has been one who was reporting the situation to the world on this count recently (“North Korea Reforming Economy while Denying Change,” France 24, 12 April). There is no question that her nuclear tests pose threats to the region and understandably countries like Australia are also nervous. However, war against North Korea is not the solution.
After President Xi Jinping’s visit to US, Donald Trump made several Tweets in this regard and one I have found was the following dated 13 April.
“I have great confidence that China will properly deal with North Korea. If they are unable to do so, the U.S., with its allies, will! U.S.A.”
This is a dangerous statement in the name of USA, allowing a blame game aiming at China. What does it mean when it says, ‘properly deal’ in the first sentence? It could mean war, which is clear from the second sentence: “If they are unable to do so, the US, with its allies, will [do].”
For Lasting Peace
The Korean question is a much more complicated issue than the claimed ‘rogue state’ in Pyongyang, both politically and ‘technically.’ We can see that, if there is a proper Security Council discussion on the matter, without mere political posturing.
Analyzing “Northeast Asia’s Security Dilemma: Korea at the Centre,” Leonid Petrov wrote to the Annual Security Outlook of the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific (CSCAP) in 2015, that “Stable peace and security in Northeast Asia cannot be achieved without ending the Korean War.” Why did he say ‘Korean War? Because, technically (or politically) speaking, there was only an armistice agreement or truce in 1953, and not a proper settlement or a peace agreement. The UN has been sleeping all these years, without resolving the situation.
Leonid Petrov, a Korea expert, is attached to the Australian National University (ANU) and to my knowledge holds the same view/s, highlighting its present complications to the media regularly in Australia. As he further said (in 2015),
“From the first days of their separation after World War II, both North and South Korea have lived in a constant fear of invasion mixed with the constant desire to pre-empt this invasion by attacking first and unifying the country. The unfinished nature of the Korean War left both Pyongyang and Seoul frustrated and paranoid about each other’s intentions, effectively precluding any improvement in bilateral relations to the present day.”
This is the situation that the UN should resolve, without allowing its big members to bully other countries, jeopardizing their own people’s security through jingoism and warmongering. The ‘unfinished nature of the Korean war’ should be resolved and ‘finished’ through a proper and a lasting peace.