The Impact of Division on Korea and the Major Powers

by Prof. Ilpyong Kim, Ph.D.
University of Connecticut

Presented at the IIC Symposium: Korea, Divided Nation


The armistice agreement of the Korean War which was signed on July 27, 1953 has had enormous impact on the Korean peninsula as well as on the great power relations between the United States, the People뭩 Republic of China, and the former Soviet Union. However, the rise of nationalism and unification movement of two Koreas challenged the underlying issues of U. S.-Korea relations that Korean people were forced into an action in order to overcome the division of their fatherland.

It is the argument of this paper that the division of Korea for the past half century intensified the movement toward the national unification in the North as well as in the South which in turn transformed the Korean nationalism into Anti-Americanism. Therefore, the reconciliation and peaceful reunification of two Koreas will ultimately alleviate the anti-American sentiment among the Korean people.

The Origins of Divide:

Who was responsible for the division of the Korean peninsula? It is now well researched and known since many outstanding scholars have written their Ph. D. dissertations on the Korean War in the context of the Cold War and the U. S.-Soviet relations in the 1940s and the U. S.-China relations in the 1950s that the U. S. was conduit to the Korean divide. The majority of Koreans now know that it was Colonel Bonesteel and Dean Rusk at the Pentagon decided to draw the 38th parallel line in order to halt the marching Russian army at the 38th parallel line when the World War II was ending in August 1945. So the Koreans blame the United States for the Korean divide and demand for the national reunification of two Koreas invoking the national independence. However, the former Soviet Union was equally responsible for the division of Koreas and for sustaining it for the past six decades.

The Role of Nationalism in Korean Unification:

Nationalism played an essential role in the Korean independence movement during the Japanese colonial period (1910-1945). It brought about the unity of faction ridden Korean independence movement inside Korea as well as that of the overseas Koreans in China, Russia, and the United States. However, the division of Korea into two halves by the two antagonistic powers, Russia and America intensified the factionalism within the nationalist movement, thus splitting the Korean people into two groups either pro-South Korea or pro-North Korea. Moreover, the prolonged division of two Koreas for a half century further intensified the national unification movement among the younger generation of Koreans who have never experienced the Cold War nor exposed to the Korean War. So the post-Korean War generation advocated the reunification of the fatherland by any means demanding the withdrawal of the U. S. troops from South Korea. From their perspective the continued U. S. presence in Korea serves as an obstacle to the reunification of two Koreas.

The Role of Major Powers in the Division of Korea:

The United States and the former Soviet Union played the major role in the divide and rule of the two Koreas when the United States moved into the south as the Soviet Union occupied the north in the aftermath of W. W. II. in 1945. While the Soviet Union withdrew its Army in 1948 following the establishment of the Democratic People뭩 Republic of Korea (DPRK) on September 9, 1948, the United States Armed Forces continued to station in South Korea and provided the security protection of the Republic of Korea for the past 55 years. Thus, the presence of U. S. troops in South Korea for more than half century inevitably increased the feeling of being occupied by the United States which led to the intensification of nationalism in the South that led to the demand for the withdrawal of U. S. troops and reunification of two Koreas at any cost.

During the height of the Cold War the Soviet Union supported the North Korean regime while the People뭩 Republic of China (PRC) rescued the collapse of the North Korean regime during the Korean War. North Korea started the Korean War invoking the nationalistic slogan of liberating the Korean people from the U. S. colonialism and imperialism. At the verge of its collapse in October 1950 the Chinese volunteer army intervened in the Korean War thus replacing the Soviet influence in the Korean affairs and providing the security protection of North Korea from the threat of U. S. forces in the South for the past half century. After the collapse of the Soviet Union the PRC functioned as the most reliable ally of North Korea rendering the economic and military assistance. However, the rapprochement and normalization of relations between China and the United States changed dramatically the international environment of the Korean peninsula, thus increasing the influence of the United States and China and forced them to play the key role in the peace and stability as well as the reunification process of two Koreas while Japan and Russia played the supporting role for the United States and China respectively.

It was during the height of the Cold War that the tension and conflict between the two Koreas intensified, but the calm and reconciliation between the two Koreas were restored during the dtente between the United States and the former Soviet Union in the 1970s and tt was also during the period of normalization of relations between the United States and China in 1970s and the Shanghai Communique the changes in the major power relationship impacted the dramatic changes in the North-South Korean relations. Series of high level talks between the two Koreas yielded the historic July 4th Communique which was announced in Seoul and Pyongyang on July 4, 1972.

The two Korean leaders agreed that the unification of two Koreas will be achieved independently without any foreign interference, it will be achieved by peaceful means without the war, and it will be achieved by means of the grand national unity. The three principles of reconciliation and reunification was agreed upon and sustained for the next three decades. However, the lofty goals of reunification was not achieved due largely to the changing international relations in the 1980s and 1990s and more specifically to the increased military tensions in South Korea under the military dictatorship of Chun Doo Hwan government.

The peaceful reconciliation and dialogue began in the 1990s when the civilian government of Kim Young Sam was installed in 1992 and economic cooperation between the two Koreas increased. It was during the period of Kim Dae Jung뭩 sunshine policy North Korea responded to convene the summit meeting in 2000 and the North-South Korean economic relations increased dramatically. The Roh Moo-Hyun government also adopted the policy of prosperity and engagement toward North Korea and will continue to work toward the peaceful reunification of two Koreas in the 21st century.

The Nuclear Issues and the Six Party Talks:

The discussions and debate on the nuclear development in North Korea have been a prolonged for more than a decade in 1990s. However, the history of nuclear development in North Korea is more than a half century old. North Korean scientists began theoretical study of nuclear energy in the early 1950s , when they started their practical training in the Soviet Union. The scientific and experimental infrastructure in the nuclear field was built with Soviet technical assistance. Soviet technicians took part in the construction of the nuclear facilities in Yongbyon, 92 kilometers north of Pyongyang, which was suspected of having produced sufficient plutonium to make two or three nuclear bomb. The Geneva Agreed Framework of 1994 froze the nuclear program in Yongbyon.

When North Korea launched a missile on August 31, 1998, and increased suspicions that it was resuming its nuclear development program, the hostility toward North Korea increased in the U. S. Congress. The Republican members of Congress criticized the Bill Clinton Administration뭩 밷utter-for-guns approach to North Korea. Thus, the Congress voted on September 17, 1998, to shelve the US$35 million in funds needed to supply 500,000 tons of crude oil to North Korea, calling on the administration to conduct 밶 zero-based review of its relations with North Korea. Concerned with the U.S. Congress vote against funding for North Korea, Pyongyang harshly criticized the development and threatened to scrap the 1994 Agreed Framework. However, the Clinton administration took such measures to improve relations with North Korea as providing food aid and energy assistance. Moreover, it initiated an engagement policy toward North Korea on the occasion of the Sunshine policy in South Korea in 1998. President Clinton appointed former Defense Secretary William Perry to review the current status of Korean problems and the possibility of building a peace structure on the Korean peninsula.

The United States would accept a policy for normalization of diplomatic relations with North Korea only under certain conditions which included that North Korea abandon the development of ballistic missiles; that it continue to abide by the Agreed Framework of October 1994; and that it reduce tension along the DMZ by reducing the arms build up. In response to the changing international environment in general and, more specifically, to American policy toward the Korean Peninsula, North Korea has moved away from its own self-imposed isolation to a more open diplomacy, establishing diplomatic relations with, Italy, Australia and with all the members of the European Union in 2000. Also North Korea took part in the Asian Regional Forum of ASEAN, which is a forum of 22 nations, including the United States, China, and South Korea. North Korea was thus approaching the United States to establish the diplomatic relations.

North Korea뭩 hopes that better relations with the south would bring a breakthrough in normalization with the United States have been dashed since President Bush took office in January 2001. 밒f the United States is really interested in disarmament on the Korean Peninsula, first of all, it should pull its aggression troops out of South Korea, the official North Korean paper stated. Since then, North Korea has returned to making hostile comments against the United States and countered the United States aggression as they perceived it was forthcoming during the period of the Bush administration. However, President Bush invited North Korea on June 6, 2001, to resume the U.S.-DPRK talks on missiles, conventional forces, and the 1994 Agreed Framework. But North Korea rejected.

North Korea perceived that the United States is all out to accelerate the regime change and undermined its effort to normalize diplomatic relations with the United States. Thus the United States relations with North Korea became stand still over the issues of nuclear weapons development and the missile development. However, North Korea responded positively to come to the Six Party Talks after the persuasive diplomacy of China and Russia. The six party talks was convened in Beijing, China on August 29, 2003 and the six countries, North Korea, South Korea, China, Russia, Japan and United States participated. The six countries agreed on August 29th on the need to keep the Korean Peninsula nuclear-free and reconvene the multilateral talks in their efforts to seek a peaceful solution to the prolonged nuclear standoff. However, North Korea will not forego the nuclear program unless the United States guarantee its security and provide the economic aid including the fuel supply to meet its energy needs which will be caused by the halting of nuclear program.젨

Prospect for the Reunification of Two Koreas:

Because of the bitter experience of the Korean War in 1950-53 the Korean people in the North and South want to achieve the reunification of two Koreas by peaceful means. The two Koreas have changed their approaches to the bilateral relations by increasing economic interactions as well as the reunion of separated families. There are 10 million Korean people who are separated from each other due to the Korean War and many of them are aging and want to achieve the reunion of separated families during their lifetime.

During the natural disaster of flood, draught, and famine in North Korea in the 1993-94 period South Korea provided million tons of food, fuel and relief aids for humanitarian reasons to the starving North Korean compatriot. The younger generation which has never experienced the Korean War constituted more than 70 percent of South Korean population and demand more reconciliatory and humanitarian approach to North Korean people and accomplish the reunification of two Koreas by peaceful means.

However, the lofty goals of reconciliation and reunification of the two Koreas could be achieved only when the North Korean leadership is willing to give up the development of the nuclear weapons by accepting the security guarantee and humanitarian aid of the major powers at the Six-Party Conference in Beijing. Then the reunification of two Koreas may be achieved peacefully with the consent and security guarantee of the four major powers surrounding the Korean peninsula including China, Japan, Russia and the United which are influencing the future direction of reconciliation and reunification of two Koreas. 젨


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