Look to the future, not the past

In game theory, there’s something referred
to as the ‘Nash Equilibrium.’ It’s a theory commonly used in political
negotiations on the international stage or for economic bargaining. 

The creator of this game theory is American
mathematician John Nash — more well known for being the inspiration of the
Oscar-winning film “Beautiful Mind.” The Nobel Economics Prize laureate
explained, “A Nash Equilibrium is when each party has chosen its best option
according to the other’s strategy, and under such circumstances parties will
not change their options.” In other words, “It is an equilibrium if no player
can find cause to change its strategy unless the other does.”

Commonly cited as an example for the ‘Nash
Equilibrium’ is the ‘Prisoner’s Dilemma.’ This refers to the example in which
two prisoners would both benefit from mutual cooperation but pursuit of
self-interest would result in losses for each party.

The reality between South and North Korea
does not quite conform to game theories as such. But there is something worth
noting. Given that Pyongyang’s hereditary leadership has chosen its ‘best
option’ of simultaneously pushing for economic and nuclear development, it will
not change its strategy unless Seoul does, proving the validity of the Nash

Under current circumstances, what strategy
does the South need to choose in order to maintain balance with the North? I
believe the traditional approach that maintains ‘facing nuclear with nuclear is
the only option’ holds true. If not, we need to rid North Korea of its
nuclear capabilities or see that a ‘non-nuclear open leadership’ comes into
power. That would be the ‘best option.’

According to the ‘Prisoner’s Dilemma,’ if
two prisoners cooperate, they can reap mutually beneficial results, but if they
pursue self-interest, both will incur losses. In other words, if Pyongyang
chooses to open up and go non-nuclear, the two Koreas will see benefits, but if
it continues to pursue its simultaneous economic and nuclear development, both
the South and North will lose. 

The problem lies in the fact that Pyongyang
has long believed its songun [military-first] policy and its dual development policy [byungjin line] together form its ‘best
option’ and that as long as the South cooperates both can reap benefits.

For the past two decades, the North has
never once strayed from its ‘best option.’ It has maintained the state of “no
player finding cause to change its strategy unless the other does.” Pyongyang
believes under the South Korean Kim Dae Jung and Roh Moo Hyun administrations,
the other party changed its strategy and brought about benefits, while Lee
Myung Bak and Park Geun Hye chose not to and it has resulted in no positive
results. This is why Pyongyang continues to push for the South to change its

Until now, Seoul has failed to decide on
what is the ‘best option’ for its North policies, and the debate surrounding it
continues to this day.

Under such circumstances, ‘oldies’ are
making a comeback, as reflected in a particular op-ed published by a leading
newspaper in the South. The piece is entitled “Let’s Open an Era of Peaceful
Coexistence between the South and North” and published by JoongAng Ilbo on July
10. The details outlined differ somewhat from the times of the liberal Kim Dae
Jung and Roh Moo Hyun administrations, but the basic framework arguing for
peaceful coexistence and the steps of enhanced exchanges and cooperation,
progress in the North’s denuclearization, and establishing a system of peace on
the Korean Peninsula only have minor differences. In other words, the approach
of ‘give first and receive later’, which has fired up controversy since 1998,
is resurfacing.

The author of the op-ed asserts not only
that the approach for peaceful coexistence must emerge again, but also that
“the lack of consideration in policies towards the North has created tensions
that threaten peace on the Korean Peninsula” (excerpt from page 29). This claim
is tantamount to the assertion that responsibility for the lack of South-North
dialogue lies with the Park Geun Hye administration.

This op-ed is evidence that some are trying
to return to policies already proven to be wrong, and it is reason for concern
that such parties may influence current unification policies being pursued by
the Unification Preparatory Committee under the Presidential Office of Cheong
Wa Dae and cause confusion. Following guidance from this op-ed would only mean
the South’s policy towards Pyongyang would again fall into the ‘best option’
framework laid down by the North.

The people of South Korea do not want an
‘era of peaceful coexistence’ from 1998 but want to open a new ‘21C era of
unification on the Korean Peninsula.’ Just because negotiations have been
stalled — as the public knows due to the North — arguing for ‘peaceful
coexistence’ is no different from trying to return to a policy proven wrong.

Examining South and North relations through
the prism of game theory indicates that above all, holding the lead in
unification and negotiations is most important. This is why attempting to throw
the country into confusion after the Park Geun Hye administration for the first
time since the 1953 armistice seized the lead in unification efforts will not
be accepted by members of the public since it will be akin to throwing away an
opportunity the country has created for itself.

Now is more the time to think about
expanding the Unification Preparatory Committee to one of implementation, if it
manages to secure a set of results. It is not the time to return to the issue
of ‘peaceful coexistence between the South and North.’

The are largely two issues on the Korean
Peninsula that are being dealt with by the United Nations: one is Pyongyang’s
nuclear program, and the other is its human rights track record.

The fact that these are both being
addressed by the UN indicates they represent universal issues of concern that
are unfolding on the Korean Peninsula. Especially when it comes to the matter
of human rights, the UN’s Human Rights Council is the main body dealing with
the issue, and now the agenda of referring North Korea to the International
Criminal Court for crimes against humanity has been on the table at the Security

This is why the people of South Korea and
the government need to be more focused on the issues of nuclear development and
human rights. Meanwhile, there’s also the need to push to provide the North
with humanitarian aid and greater support in the fields of healthcare and the
environment. I cannot emphasize enough that ‘peaceful coexistence’ is an
already failed attempt in history. There is no reason to return to waters that
have already passed. That’s a belief that has held true since the days of
ancient Greek society.

Questions or comments about this article? Contact us at dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.