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Korean peninsula

UN blue helmets and trust can bring peace to the Korean peninsula

John Gruetzner says stationing a multi-nation UN peacekeeping force on either side of the DMZ would allay North Korean fears and lead to the eventual denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 April, 2017, 10:20am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 April, 2017, 9:22am

The Korean armistice was signed in 1953, and since then the search has been on for a peace plan. If a sustainable peace plan is not found soon for the Korean peninsula, it could be the third time in history that a nuclear weapon is deployed.

Now that China and the United States both see the importance of working together for a solution, it creates what is possibly the last opportunity to prevent violence.

The first critical step in a peace plan would be to create trust and stabilise the situation by deploying, with the agreement of both Koreas and the Security Council, UN peacekeepers on either side of the demilitarised zone. This will definitely require a leap of faith but it is dangerous to assume that the North will denuclearise without some form of interim security.

Stationing two peacekeeping forces, or “two blue lines”, on either side of the DMZ should foster this trust. Their deployment would be undertaken in parallel with negotiations required for the North to agree to the full inspection and dismantlement of its nuclear weapons.

The current UN command in South Korea would have to be converted to a peacekeeping role and renamed. US troops could remain but the peacekeepers would have to be from other countries. China’s participation in the force on the northern side would provide comfort to the North Korean leadership. Longer-term military demobilisation of conventional troops in the North would trigger support from the UN and international financial institutions. Aid would be linked to the liberalisation of North Korea.

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This plan, which is predicated on its acceptance by the North Korean leadership, permits the preservation of sovereignty for the North, which is the most important consideration for Pyongyang. China’s participation in this peacekeeping force should provide sufficient confidence to the North that it would not be invaded.

Having blue lines on either side the DMZ would also ultimately permit the removal of the THAAD American anti-missile system from South Korea at the point that full dismantlement of the North’s nuclear weapons is achieved. The main benefit of this plan is it rids the peninsula of nuclear weapons. It also spreads the cost of developing North Korea that South Korea is reluctant to absorb.

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The process, discussions and trust required are not risk-free but the plan is worth that risk. Lester B. Pearson won the Nobel Peace Prize for orchestrating the deployment of UN blue helmet peacekeepers between Egypt and Israel amid the Suez Crisis in 1956. It was an unprecedented moral alternative to war. Peace may yet come to the Korean peninsula.

John Gruetzner is the co-managing director of Intercedent Limited, an Asia-focused investment advisory firm