A New Kind of Korea

Building Trust Between Seoul and Pyongyang

On August 15, 1974, South Korea's Independence Day, I lost my mother, then the country's first lady, to an assassin acting under orders from North Korea. That day was a tragedy not only for me but also for all Koreans. Despite the unbearable pain of that event, I have wished and worked for enduring peace on the Korean Peninsula ever since. But 37 years later, the conflict on the peninsula persists. The long-simmering tensions between North and South Korea resulted in an acute crisis in November 2010. For the first time since the Korean War, North Korea shelled South Korean territory, killing soldiers and civilians on the island of Yeonpyeong.

Only two weeks earlier, South Korea had become the first country outside the G-8 to chair and host a G-20 summit, welcoming world leaders to its capital, Seoul. These events starkly illustrated the dual reality of the Korean Peninsula and of East Asia more broadly. On the one hand, the Korean Peninsula remains volatile. The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction by North Korea, the modernization of conventional forces across the region, and nascent great-power rivalries highlight the endemic security dilemmas that plague this part of Asia. On the other hand, South Korea's extraordinary development, sometimes called the Miracle on the Han River, has, alongside China's rise, become a major driver of the global economy over the past decade.

These two contrasting trends exist side by side in Asia, the information revolution, globalization, and democratization clashing with the competitive instincts of the region's major powers. To ensure that the first set of forces triumphs, policymakers in Asia and in the international community must not only take advantage of existing initiatives but also adopt a bolder and more creative approach to achieving security. Without such an effort, military brinkmanship may only increase -- with repercussions well beyond Asia. For this reason, forging trust and sustainable peace on the Korean Peninsula represents one of the most urgent and crucial tasks on Asia's list of outstanding security challenges.

INTRODUCING TRUST

Register for free to continue reading.
Registered users get access to two free articles every month.

Or subscribe now and save 55 percent.

Subscription benefits include:
  • Full access to ForeignAffairs.com
  • Six issues of the magazine
  • Foreign Affairs iPad app privileges
  • Special editorial collections

Latest Commentary & News analysis