Editor’s Note: Thae Yong Ho was serving as North Korea’s deputy ambassador to the United Kingdom when he chose to defect with his family to South Korea in 2016. Following the recent release of his book, “Cypher of the Third-Floor Secretariat,” and his departure from the Institute for National Security Strategy (INSS), he has committed himself to improving the outlook for those still living in the DPRK. His current efforts focus on information sharing and the power of education to effect change.
As one of the highest-ranking diplomats to ever defect, Thae has teamed up with Daily NK and its broader media consortium, Unification Media Group, for a weekly series to share his unparalleled insight into the North Korean system, ethos, and strategic thinking, while unpacking his vision for peace on the Korean Peninsula.
Transcript (filmed on August 1):
The 27th of July marked the 65th anniversary of the armistice of the Korean War.
On that day, North Korea returned the remains of US troops to the United States.
A few days before, it was reported that North Korea had begun to dismantle some parts of the Sohae Satellite Launching Station.
North Korea has stated that the implementation of the agreement made at the US-North Korea Summit is a matter of “sequences” and as North Korea is carrying out these sequences, it is time for the US to respond to the declaration of the end of the war.
But on the other hand, the United States is of the stance that it is difficult to declare the end of the war, unless North Korea begins to show clear signs of a denuclearization process since the core of the US-North Korea Summit was denuclearization.
Some people in South Korea are also demanding that the United States respond to the declaration, as North Korea is firmly implementing their side of the agreement made at the US-North Korea summit.
However, the fact is, the acts shown by North Korea after the summit such as the dismantling of the missile test site and repatriation of the remains of US soldiers are far from denuclearization.
On April 20th, one week before the Panmunjom Declaration was adopted, Kim Jong Un emphasized that North Korea’s Nuclear weapons are “a powerful treasured sword for defending peace and the firm guarantee by which our descendants can enjoy the most dignified and happiest life in the world” at a meeting of the Central Committee of his ruling Workers’ Party of Korea.
In early July, the North Korean authorities gathered their core officials and held an internal lecture that emphasized that “nuclear weapons are a noble legacy left by former leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, and that if we do not have nuclear weapons, we die.”
Additionally, in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee a few days ago, US Secretary of State Pompeo stated that North Korea “continues to produce fissile material” after the Panmunjom Declaration and the US-North Korea Summit.
Despite this, North Korea is focusing on the declaration of the end of the war, rejecting the creation of a working group on denuclearization that was agreed upon during Pompeo’s third mission to North Korea.
The reason that North Korea is focusing on the declaration of the end of the war while avoiding any real acts of denuclearization is so that it can succeed to dissolve the United Nations Command in South Korea which will thus lead to the withdrawal of the USFK while at the same time keeping their nuclear weapons intact.
It seems that United Nations Command is meaningless since the ROK military’s operational control is actually in the ROK-US Combined Forces Command and United Nations Command only cares the matters related to the Armistice Agreement.
Nonetheless, it is the United Nations Command in South Korea that formally exercises the command of the foreign forces who took part in the Korean War and submits reports of its regular activities to the UN Security Council in which China and Russia are members.
In short, the UN Command has maintained the symbolic form of being responsible for the military protection of South Korea, while at the same time restraining the emergence of new wars in the Korean Peninsula. Currently, the UN Command includes the United States, Australia, Canada, France, Norway, Thailand and the United Kingdom and so on.
Some member countries send liaison officers or small-scale military personnel to the US-ROK joint drill to send a “message of solidarity” to North Korea, saying that if a war breaks out again on the peninsula, it will fight with South Korea.
When I was North Korea’s Deputy Ambassador to the United Kingdom, whenever the UK participated in the US-ROK military exercises such as “Key Resolve” or “Foal Eagle” I would go to the British Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defense and protest against the British involvement in the exercises.
Each time, the British government responded with the statement that they were merely carrying out their mission as a member of the United Nations Command.
If a disaster such as the new Korean War erupts again, as long as China is a permanent member of the UN Security Council, a UN Security Council resolution like the dispatch of UN troops will not be able to be adopted.
In the face of declaring the end of the war, the US and South must first have an accurate assessment of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities and demand that it begin the process of irreversible denuclearization.
If North Korea wants to advance in negotiations, it must create an environment favorable for adopting the declaration to the end of the war by acceding to verifiable denuclearization process such as the dismantlement of the Sohae Satellite Launching Station within the framework of the verification process.
If North Korea maintains a negative attitude toward the denuclearization process with in the framework of the verification, its authenticity of denuclearization will be questioned, and its goal of adopting the declaration of the end of the war will not be realized within the year.