What is happening in the Korean Peninsula

by Sami Burgaz
By Safiye Ergun
Redacted By Sami Burgaz
In late June, the Korean peninsula once again came to the forefront of the global agenda due to reports that South Korea has begun constructing an iron-dome like Israel.

Communication between the two Koreas had been cut off since June 2020 due to North Korea’s attack on an inter-Korean liaison office along the border. Just one year and especially with the construction of the iron-dome initiated, concerns about regional security have heightened. The construction project has been approved by Defence Minister Suh Wook with a 2.89 trillion-won (US$2.56 billion) budget and is expected to be completed by 2035.

The justifications to why South Korea needs an iron-dome like defence system have become a topic of heated debate in recent days. According to a news article by Reuters the intention behind building an Iron Dome style defence system is to counter North Korean aggression.

It has been reported that Pyongyang has deployed around a thousand long-range artillery along the Military Demarcation Line which separates the two states. On the other hand, there are some assertive claims that the rockets of the North are targeted to strike Seoul.  According to the Defence Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) which is the responsible unit for the project, the iron-dome is going to be constructed to prevent the country from any possible threats:

“The project is designed to secure an interceptor system with our own technologies to boost our capabilities of countering enemies’ long-range artillery threats so as to protect core facilities and military and security infrastructure.”

Initially, the news of the project led to concerns that it would further diminish the almost non-existing hope of peace in the Korean peninsula. However, in late July the news took a 180 degree turn as reports broke about the states resorting to dialogue by restoring communication lines including one that has been blown up before.

An official of the South’s presidential office said that the leaders of the two countries “shared an understanding to recover mutual trust and again push the countries’ relationship forward” and continue to be engaged in dialogue via personal letters. This news has since been approved by the North Korean Central News Agency.

However, there are warnings that these dialogue steps are positive developments but the is very little room for optimism. It is better to evaluate North’s positive steps away from authenticity; since the reason for this rapprochement is its economic weakness, lack of food resources and COVID-19 vaccinations. Thus, “’the hotline restoration between two Koreas shouldn’t be overplayed.’” Harry Kazianis, Senior Director at the Centre for the National Interest says,

“I think we have to view this as a positive sign for inter-Korean relations ― but not to get too excited about any sort of breakthrough just yet. It is possible this could be a play by North Korea to see what aid it can get from Seoul such as food aid, vaccines, or personal protective equipment. However, as always, North Korea will want these things with little supervision of where they go and what they do with them.”

Supporting Kazianis’ statement, the South Korean opposition politicians also highlighted their doubts on excessive optimism. “It is worrisome that (the government) is overplaying the restoration of communication line,” said Yoo Seung-min, the presidential contender from the conservative main opposition People Power Party (PPP).

To add up to the matter of contention, it was disclosed that multiple communication channels in operation between the two states have been restored and tested between July 27, and the parties had successful calls.

A day after, on July 28, the South and North Korean military authorities held a phone call via a military hotline. That said, there are still hotlines that need to be recovered, hence the restoration will continue.

The relations between South and North Korea have always been erratic. The Korean War ended with a cease-fire in 1953 not a peace; thus technically the two states are in fact still in war. In the present circumstance reconciliation seems objectionable. Hence, it is possible to say that the dialogue steps are materializing due to certain mutual interests.

When rapprochement were made in 2018, the world was buoyant about the possibility of a permanent peace; however, it quickly broke down after the Trump Administration – whom Kim Jong-Un got well with – lost the US Elections.

To sum up, it would be appropriate to label the relations between the two countries as quite fragile.


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