South Korea’s role as a mediator is appearing again in public discussions after the second U.S.-North Korea summit. But as we saw at the Hanoi summit, South Korea was not able to project the result of the summit due to lack of information. We are wondering what roles the South Korean government can take on in the future.
Questioners: Kim Yeon-doo (Class of 2016, Religious Studies Department at Seoul National University), Park Ji-hye (Class of 2015, Media & Communications Department at Korea University), Kim Ga-eun (Class of 2013, International Studies Department at Dong-A University), Kim Ji-won (Class of 2014, Communication & Media Department at Ewha Women’s University, 14th graduate at The Asan Institute for Policy Studies)
Following is the opinion of Shin Beom-cheol, head of Security Unification Center and a member of The Asan Institute for Policy Studies.
Mediation means trying to settle an argument between two groups of people. But it has different meanings in international relations. Parties in dispute ask a third party for mediation, and the third party suggests a conflict adjustment plan. If the adjustment plans are binding and final, it is arbitration, and if it is a non-binding recommendation, it is mediation.
South Korea is not a third party when it comes to North Korean nuclear issues, which is why some point out that the term “arbitration” or “mediation” are inappropriate. Moreover, even though South Korea created an atmosphere for talks between the North and the U.S., it did not persuade the two parties to suggest and accept concrete negotiation agenda. This makes the South Korean government more of a “facilitator” that contributes to peaceful resolution of conflicts.
Considering the above, South Korea was not an arbitrator or a mediator. It was directly involved in the North Korean nuclear issues and neither the U.S. nor North Korea acknowledged South Korea as a mediator. The South Korean government knew this, which is why the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced to carry out a role as a facilitator to denuclearize the North and bring peace on the Korean Peninsula in its plans for 2019.
I believe the South Korean government should carry out the role in a proper manner. The summit breakdown spelled a cooling-off period between the U.S. and North Korea, but both countries will try to continue with the dialogue. South Korea should create an environment to resume talks between the two countries. If it takes Pyongyang’s side and argue for resumption of Mt. Kumgang tours and operation of Kaesong Complex, it would not be able to carry out a role as a good facilitator. It needs to encourage North Korea to come up with proactive plans such as a denuclearization roadmap while talking about Mt. Kumgang and Kaesong Complex to arrange for conditions to resume talks between the two countries. Thus, the government should not make haste or deliver opinions of one side, but take a balanced and poised approach. And it needs to aim for denuclearization and peace, which is the security benefit that South Korea can enjoy.