Reinventing the Inter-Korean Relationship

SEOUL – On February 12, 2013, North Korea carried out its third nuclear test in the run-up to the inauguration of a new administration – my own – in the South. Around that time, the Presidential Transition Committee adopted the “Trust-Building Process on the Korean Peninsula” as a key policy of the new administration. Though the North’s nuclear test created pressure to revise the trust-building process, I made it clear that I would stay the course. Indeed, since its conception, the trust-building process has taken into account possible military provocations from North Korea, and is intended specifically to break the vicious cycle of provocations followed by compromise and rewards to placate tensions.

The trust-building process was formulated to overcome the limitations of both appeasement and hardline policies: while the former depended entirely on the North’s tenuous good faith, the latter implied only relentless pressure. The trust-building process, based on the strength of formidable deterrence, is intended to build sustainable peace on the Korean Peninsula by making North Korea pay dearly for its aggressive acts while ensuring opportunities for change and assistance if it is willing to become a responsible member of the international community.

Since the launch of my administration, North Korea has escalated its military threats and bellicose rhetoric against the South. In April 2013, the North took the extreme step of unilaterally barring South Korean workers from entering the Gaesong Industrial Complex, a symbol of inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation, and withdrawing all of its own workers.

Following the shutdown of the Gaesong facility, some suggested that the North be offered, through back-channel contacts, incentives to improve inter-Korean relations. But, aware that such contacts with the North had produced many adverse effects in the past, I opted for an open and transparent proposal for dialogue.