On Thursday, 22 March 2018, Research Center for Politics-Indonesian Institute of Sciences (P2Politik-LIPI) held a seminar entitled "Crisis in the Korean Peninsula: What Role for Indonesia after the Winter Olympics?" at the Widya Graha LIPI, Jakarta. This seminar was moderated by Diandra Megaputri Mengko, M.Han (Researcher, P2Politik-LIPI) and featured a panel made up of Professor Dr. David Cortright (Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame, USA) and Dr. M. Riefqi Muna (Research Center for Politics, Indonesian Institute of Sciences).
Prof. David outlined at the beginning of his presentation that we are now on the critical moment that we have a de facto freeze on nuclear testing from North Korea side and silencing of bombastic twitter threats from the other side. There are two different narratives on how we came to this significant development. While the first narrative says the present calm is the result of maximum pressure, such as military threats and increasingly forceful sanctions, the second emphasizes on engagement. South Korean President's call for North Korea participation in the Winter Olympics in November 2017 and Kim Jong-un's new year message and agreement one week later to join the Olympics were important moments for breathtaking months which culminated in the dramatic moment of President Trump dropping the condition of prior denuclearization and agreeing to the summit.
While this development is the result of two approaches, Prof. David argued that engagement more likely over the long term to bring positive results. Sanctions as a tool for diplomacy work best when combined with incentives, as bargaining theory of sanctions said. However, considerable risk in the current scenario should be managed because North Korea is already a nuclear weapon state and highly secretive, and therefore, it is impossible to envision a systematic and structured denuclearization of North Korea, at least for this moment. Also, Prof. David warned that the lack of capacity of the US Department of State, in a situation that has no secretary of state, no ambassador to South Korea and special representative to North Korea, and no interagency group has been established, should keep us to be realistic what the goals are.
In the end, Prof. David proposed two crucial questions about what other states can do in the absence of coherent US policy and capacity and also, what can be done to engage the United Nations and six-party group? As argued by David, ultimately a deal is needed between the US and North Korea as a genuine normalization of diplomatic and commercial relations, in exchange for a progressive step toward denuclearization. In return, the United States and South Korea should offer an easing and suspension of military exercises and naval maneuvers, as a more genuine form of security guarantee. Besides, Prof. David also suggested building a parallel six-party way of engagement, adding the United Nations Security Council as in Iran scenario to address the details of verification and long-term process of nuclear restraint and control. Last but not least, Prof. David persuaded us not to forget the broader context to support international denuclearization, to reject the normalization of nuclear weapons, and to commit to article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, while at the same time supporting civil society efforts, such as International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.
The second speaker, Dr. Riefqi Muna, reiterated that the gesture that emerged from the situation when North Korea participated to the Winter Olympics as well as the whole communication and dialogue, also the visits, was a surprise since for many decades North Korea has been tough and unpredictable. While there are some kinds of hope, but still there are high levels of risks. Dr. Riefqi warned that any possible situation could happen. The uncertainties of the future of denuclearization and even further the Korean unification is real until North Korea giving the signal that it would like to open for dialogue since the situation of war is not only at the military side but also at the semantic side. According to Dr. Riefqi, the latter is related to the way South Korea and North Korea communicating each other. The language of communication between the two is the language of conflict. They used different kind of terms that basically could have impacts to the escalation of the conflict. Therefore, as argued by Dr. Riefqi, more works need to be done in the operational level to prepare for the summit as well as to implement if both parties agreed finally on different time of aspects that come following the possible agreement on the denuclearization.
In regards to Indonesia's role, Dr. Riefqi added that welcoming the positive progress is not enough for Indonesia. Indonesia should pay attention to North Korea since the development of Korean nuclear weapon also poses threats for Indonesia. If the North Korean nuclear weapon can reach the American soil, it also means that the nuclear weapon can reach Indonesia. Besides, the problem of North Korean nuclear weapon is also for the region of Southeast Asia. ASEAN has been working for years to develop regional security architecture to promote peace not only in Southeast Asia but also to the whole of East Asia and even the whole of Asia Pacific. Regional security architecture based on the cooperative security will be critical aspect since regional dynamic in East Asia will largely depend on the peaceful situation in the Korean Peninsula. Therefore, as stated by Dr. Riefqi, Indonesia should need to take more roles. Interestingly, looking at the historical process and current political relations, Indonesia provides a position that is more psychologically neutral comparing to others in the region. While this position means that Indonesia can communicate well to the North Korea and of course, has excellent communication with South Korea, Dr. Riefqi assured that Indonesia could contribute more in promoting peace and security in the Korean Peninsula since there is already historical, social and political base. (Lidya Christin Sinaga)