By Denis Bright
In co-hosting the meeting of twenty foreign ministers in Vancouver at the Conference on developments in the Stability and Security of the Korean Peninsula both the Canadian and US Governments made rigorous preparations to minimise the risks of dissent between such a large international forum. The stability of such an unwieldy meeting must have been an imperative for the Trump Administration.
Foreign ministers attended the Vancouver meeting from twenty countries. Not all had been directly involved in the Korean War (1950-53) and the rationale for some of the invitees was highly questionable. As well as the two co-hosting nations the eighteen attendees were from Australia, Belgium, Colombia, Denmark, France, Greece, India, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Sweden, Thailand, Turkey and the United Kingdom.
The Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland telegraphed her firm stand in support of UN Security Council sanctions against the DPRK well before the main event in Vancouver:
Canada condemns in the strongest terms North Korea’s continued ballistic missile launches, in direct violation of many United Nations Security Council resolutions. This latest launch is a reckless and dangerous act that threatens regional and global security,” Freeland said in a statement.
Foreign Minister Freeland added an element of uncertainty by speaking in French in her welcoming remarks at the Vancouver Convention Centre. This required Rex Tillerson to fumble with the translation head-set provided to all delegates.
Canada’s commitment to more rules-based diplomacy would have been music to the ears of other stalwarts from member states of the US Global Military Alliance who had accepted invitations from the hosts.
Canada went still further than expected by offering $US 3.25 million to a State Department Programme that will help countries enforce sanctions against the DPRK.
Canada’s co-operation was re-enforced by Japan’s commitment to the Trump Administration. Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono added a blunt assessment of the current situation:
“I am aware that some people argue that now that North Korea is engaging in inter-Korea dialogue, we should reward them by lifting up sanctions or by providing some sort of assistance,” he said at the meeting, adding that such a response was premature.
“I believe that North Korea wants to buy some time to continue their nuclear and missile programs,” Kono said. Those who disagree, he said, are “just too naive.”
Significance of the Inter-Korean Thaw
Such determination suggested that the event had been planned as an international war cabinet. Its agenda had been seriously distracted by the unexpected Inter-Korean Thaw associated with preparations for the Winter Olympics. The Trump Administration had planned for agendas to strengthen sanctions against the DPRK:
During the meeting delegates will be reviewing the sanctions currently in place and talk about ways to ensure they are being properly enforced.
U.S. State Department officials confirmed last week that they will discuss whether to intercept ships headed in and out of North Korea.
“We continue to explore all options to enhance maritime security and the ability to interdict maritime traffic, those transporting goods to and from the [North] that support the nuclear and missile program,” said Brian Hook, director of policy planning at the State Department.
When the meeting was first conceived back in September 2017, the Trump Administration had just unleashed its “fire and fury like the world has never seen,” in reaction to the North Korean regime’s weapons testing programmes.
While tensions have not eased, there has been a change in the political dynamics in just a few weeks. North and South Korea held their first official talks in two years, resulting in the North being allowed to participate in the Pyeongchang Olympics, along with a pledge to keep talking in the future.
The US managed to contain tensions between the twenty foreign ministers despite the surprise of the Inter-Korean Peace Initiatives. All representatives towed the official US line at the Vancouver meeting despite some pleasant diplomatic qualifications.
Managing the presence of Sweden’s Social Democratic Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom was assisted by the approach of the national elections in 2018 and her government’s willingness to offer supportive comments on continued sanctions against the DPRK.
Opinion polls had also tightened at home for the Centre-Left Coalition of Prime Minister Stefan Lofven. This was not the time for left-leaning pre-election initiatives when the electorate was focused on domestic economic issues at home.
Response from Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom in Sweden
Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom had also offered a pragmatic stance in her address to the Security Council on 15 December 2017. Sweden supported rigorous sanctions in Security Council Resolution 2375. However, this commitment to Rules Based Diplomacy came with some diplomatic niceties:
Over the last year, tensions on the Korean Peninsula have continued to rise. They have now reached a very dangerous level. Provocations have been accompanied by an increase in confrontational rhetoric. In this environment, the potential for mistakes, misunderstandings and miscalculations is high.
In parallel to effectively implementing the sanctions regime, we must undertake further work to reduce tensions, to advance the prospects for a comprehensive settlement. Sanctions alone will not resolve the current situation. Intensified and creative diplomatic efforts that pave the way for a peaceful, diplomatic and political solution are urgently needed.
The situation must be approached without prejudice, and we must be prepared to consider both new and previous proposals and agreements. In this regard, there is also a need to explore the possibilities for regional security cooperation and arrangements. Sweden is contributing to these diplomatic efforts. We welcome Under Secretary-General Feltman’s recent visit to the DPRK.
This Council has the responsibility to uphold peace and security. There is no military solution to the crisis on the Korean Peninsula. We have to exhaust every avenue for diplomacy and dialogue. Efforts are urgent. The consequences of failure would be disastrous.
While Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom’s remarks in Vancouver are not yet available on the usual Swedish official media outlet sites, relations are improving between NATO and this traditionally neutral European country and was acknowledged in NATO communications just prior to the Vancouver Meeting (NATO Online ,14 January 2018).
Response from South Korea’s Kang Kyung-wha
With Sweden caught up in conventional diplomatic rhetoric, there was always the possibility that South Korea’s South Korea’s Foreign Minister, Kang Kyung-wha might break ranks with the Trump Administration. President Moon’s government in Seoul had indeed made the thaw in relations with the DPRK possible.
As with Margot Wallstrom’s speech, the South Korean remarks at the Vancouver meeting in support of peace initiatives were heavily qualified by criticisms of the DPRK. The fine print of Kang Kyung-wha’s address contained some qualified dissenting remarks:
While we endeavour to make the most of the new opening in Inter-Korean dialogue, we are well aware that sustained improvements in inter-Korean relations cannot take place without advances in efforts to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue, and vice versa. The two tracks must be pursued in complementarity. Denuclearization is a fundamental element of a lasting peace on the Korean peninsula.
Thus, as we endeavour to engage the North before, during and perhaps beyond Pyeongchang, we do so in clear sight of the denuclearization imperative.
The complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization of North Korea remains the unwavering goal of the Korean government and the international community. As long as North Korea continues down the path of nuclear development, sanctions will remain in place, and Korea will continue to work closely with the international community to force a change of course on North Korea. The fundamental resolution of the Korean Peninsula related issues cannot be achieved without the denuclearization of North Korea, and we will continue to seek realistic and effective ways to resume denuclearization talks at the earliest possible date.
It was President Moon’s practical actions to ease Inter-Korean tensions which made up for the absence of more daring rhetoric in the presence of a line-up of numerous member states of the US Global Alliance in Vancouver.
Orchestrating an international conference in Vancouver that provided a forum for staunch US Allies such as Colombia and the Netherlands was made easier by the absence of legitimate representatives from China and Russia as well as the UN Secretary-General.
Fortunately, the high-level talks at the Peace House in Panmunjom on 9 January 2018 foiled such best made plans by the Trump Administration.
Instead of arriving in tanks from the DPRK as anticipated by the Trump Administration during the Korean Missile Crisis, a small delegation would soon arrive from the North by bus to inspect the PyeongChang Winter Olympic site. From Seoul, the delegation would be whisked onto the new high-speed KTX train for the 180-kilometre-long journey to the PyeongChang Olympic Site.
As the US domestic electorate mobilises against the divisive politics of the Trump Administration, it is time for activists across the US Global Military Alliance to revise Cat Steven’s Peace Train lyrics (1971) for these new troubled times:
Cause from the edge of darkness
Dare ride the Peace Train.
Time for activists to take humanity
From the brink of war again.
Denis Bright (pictured) is a registered teacher and a member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis has recent postgraduate qualifications in journalism, public policy and international relations. He is interested in promoting pragmatic public policies that are compatible with contemporary globalization.