North Korea has used various means to continue to increase its country’s strength. There’s no stopping for that. Last November 21, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), a news agency from North Korea, released news that North Korea had succeeded in launching a spy satellite, Malligyong-1, after several failures last year. First failure was in May, and the next one was in August. This failure was caused by the launch rocket used to carry the reconnaissance satellite falling during the third stage. This launch has generated various responses from various corners, especially neighboring South Korea. The question is, how did South Korea respond to this action? What are the implications for bilateral relations between the two countries
Before we go too deep into this issue, it is better to understand the situation of the Korean Peninsula historically first. Starting from the beginning of the separation of the peninsula to the ups and downs of tension that have occurred recently. This will help us understand the context of tensions that occur in Korea as a whole.
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The Divisions of Korea
In 1905, the Japanese government unilaterally made a declaration and claimed that Korea was its protected area. In August 1910, Korea officially became a glorious colony of Japan. This was the first time the entire Korean Peninsula was under outside control. What made this even more galling was that Japan had been considered a cultural mentor years earlier.
According to Young Lew, Japan’s population of Korea can be divided into three phases. In the first phase (1910-1919), Korea was treated with a cruel system, meaning that civilians were kept away from basic freedoms, even with violence. This finally ended in a movement called the March First Movement, or March 1 Movement. In the second phase (1919-1932), in response to the March 1 Movement, the Japanese population began to loosen up. In accordance with its form, in this phase Japan allowed the publication of several local newspapers, even political parties too. The third phase (1932-1945) was seen as a return to the cruel system of the first phase. Japan exploitatively used Korean resources to support and assist the various wars it carried out in several places (Lew, 2000)
Japan’s treatment did not necessarily reduce the enthusiasm of Korean people to escape colonialism. This actually increased enthusiasm and nationalism not to be in the shadow of the Japanese empire. Various methods were used, both from within the country and the independence movement was carried out from abroad. Long story short, in August 1945, Hiroshima and Nagasaki landed atomic bombs belonging to the United States. This was a serious blow to Japan and affected the end of its population in various countries. Japan finally surrendered on August 15, 1945 and withdrew from Korea.
After Japan surrendered, Korea felt they were truly free from colonialism. In fact they are in a new period under foreign rule. In a counterattack against Japan, the United States and the Soviet Union had succeeded in dividing Korea into two parts at the 38th parallel. Two days after the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan. The United States saw that the best way to prevent all of Korea from falling to the Soviet Union was to divide Korea in two. On the night of August 10-11, the day after the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki,
America and the Soviets discussed the decision. On August 16, Joseph Stalin kept his promise to President Truman, the north of the 38th parallel became Soviet territory, while the south came under United States control. The influence of these two countries ultimately shaped political developments in both countries in fundamental ways.
The UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on Korean unification by holding general elections that would be directed directly by the UN. The UN Temporary Commission for Korea (UNTCOK) was formed to carry out the general elections. The Soviet Union exercised its veto power and rejected the decision. UNTCOK continues to strive to hold general elections in areas where there is no agreement, namely, the southern part of Korea. This election resulted in Syngman Rhee as the first president of the Republic of Korea. In other parts of Korea, the formulation of a constitution had begun and elections were held to form the Supreme People’s Assembly of Korea, or the Supreme People’s Assembly of Korea. This assembly then ratified the constitution and appointed Kim Il-sung as leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. After the formation of new governments in both Koreas, America and the Soviets finally slowly left Korea.
Even though they are separate and have their own governments, the two Koreas still feel that their territory is the entire Korean peninsula. Even up to a certain time, Korea led by Kim Il-sung felt that Seoul was its capital. Based on this idea, the Korean War (1950-1953) broke out with the North attacking the South. This war involved several other parties, UN troops, most of whom came from the United States, helping the South, and China helping the North. This war ended in a ceasefire agreement, a kind of armistice agreement, and no peace agreement. Since then, Korea has been completely divided into two. Both officially became members of the UN in 1991.
In simple terms, a security dilemma is a situation in which a state seeks to ensure its security by increasing its power, but is perceived as a threat by other parties. According to Shipping Tang, in an anarchy situation, two countries are defensive realists – where both countries have no intention of threatening each other. However, neither of them can be sure what they will do, either now or in the future. One way to maintain security is to increase strength or power. However, this method has the potential to be misinterpreted by other countries. Other countries may consider that the increase in strength is being carried out to attack themselves. In the end, both countries continue to accumulate their power to feel safe (Tang, 2009). This kind of situation is called a security dilemma.
There are three essential aspects that can determine whether an incident can be said to be a security dilemma or not (Tang, 2009). First, anarchy, the security dilemma must be in a situation of anarchy because this is what brings countries to feelings of uncertainty and even fear. So there is a feeling that they have to survive and be safe. Second, there are no malicious intentions from all parties. This means that every action taken to survive is not based on evil intentions. Third, accumulation of strength, which means that both countries are trying to continue to increase their strength. This is important because this is the method that is felt to be able to survive the anarchy situation.
Post-launch of Malligyong-1
If we refer to a realist view, the situation on the Korean Peninsula can be said to be anarchy. Anarchy is a situation where there is no authority higher than the state, this forces the state to carry out self-help (Weber, 2009). In the realism view, every action taken by a state at the international level is indeed a strategic choice chosen by the state because of the absence of a higher authority than usual, usually carried out to achieve its interests (Hooghe et al., 2019). So there will always be the potential for conflict and competition in international politics. What happens on the Korean Peninsula is that countries collaborate not because they are good, but because they have interests they want to achieve.
The day after the launch of Pyongyang’s surveillance satellite, Seoul suspended part of the contents of the Military Agreement that the two concluded in 2018. They felt that the actions taken by Pyongyang were not in accordance with their agreement. Seoul’s national security council said the suspension meant the restoration of reconnaissance and surveillance operations around the military demarcation line (Guardian, 2023). This is a form of Seoul’s uncertainty regarding the actions that
Pyongyang will take in the future.
On November 23, in response to the South’s suspension, North Korea officially terminated the entire military agreement (KCNA, 2023). Through KCNA, North Korea’s Ministry of Defense said that they would restore military activities on the border which had stopped for a long time since the military agreement. Continuing this decision, on August 24, Pyongyang was seen rebuilding 11 border guard posts that had previously been destroyed (Yonhap, 2023).
On November 26, South Korea conducted joint exercises with Japan and the United States. Reporting from KCNA, in this exercise, the three countries specifically carried out anti-North Korean nuclear drills (KCNA, 2023). It didn’t stop there, surprisingly at the beginning of December, South Korea also launched its military surveillance satellite which was launched directly from California (NPR, 2023). This is South Korea’s attempt to overcome its lack of confidence and try to increase its power.
On December 3, North Korea said that its satellite operations office had started operating and carrying out its mission. The various actions taken by these two countries are nothing more than efforts for self-help through strength competition. By continuing to accumulate power, countries hope that they can feel safe from their uncertainty and fear of what their opponents will do.
Implications for Inter-Korean Relations
Recent events will certainly have a strong impact on inter-Korean relations. If a country is consciously accumulating power in response to the actions of other countries, we can certainly see that something is going on. This could have the effect of increasing tensions between the two countries, even regionally. Because it is not impossible that other countries in East Asia also feel insecure about the actions of Pyongyang and Seoul. High tensions can have an impact on security stability between the two countries. The stability that has been painstakingly built since the 2018 Military Agreement has certainly been disrupted.
Apart from that, the dream of Korean reunification will definitely have to be abandoned for thetime being. Since 2018, various collaborations have been carried out by the two countries. This gives a breath of fresh air to their relationship. The two leaders were seen visiting each other, even at several world sporting events, Korea was seen parading under the Korean Unification flag. Seeing this, ordinary people will see that the hope of reuniting the two Koreas exists. As if they were at odds with the hope of reunification, the actions taken by both of them recently are actually
This implies that the dream must be left behind, at least for now.