Time to Step Out of Cold War Shadow

6-29-09, 9:58 am

Original source: Global Times (China)

The three-year Korean War, which started June 25, 1950, left serious casualties, deepened the Cold War that lasted four decades, and prolonged hostility between the East and the West.

Decades after the Cold War, Northeast Asia has seen booming economic growth. But economic prosperity in the region hasn’t dampened hostility on the Korean Peninsula.

While the Korean War has faded from many memories, a formal peace treaty has not yet been signed, meaning that officially the Korean Peninsula is still at war.

Ideological confrontation has been dispelled and replaced by economic survival in most of the former Cold War fronts. But the Korean Peninsula, the last remnant of the old Cold War days, remains a dangerous powder keg.

Late last month, after its second nuclear test escalated military tension, North Korea announced it would withdraw from the 1953 armistice that ended fighting in the war, to resist pressure from the US and the South. It was a good reminder of how fragile the region’s stability is.

The scene along the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the 38th parallel buffer area separating the two Koreas, is chilling. It is dotted with landmines and tank traps, with huge armies positioned at either side, guns leveled at one another.

The tension highlights the lack of a collaborative security system in the region. The current military alliances between the US, Japan and South Korea no longer fit the situation.

To many security scholars, six-party talks and existing regional organizations are better positioned to form the basis for an East Asia security framework.

With the ghost of war still haunting the region, the six-party talks face the danger of being phased out if they fail to find a breakthrough.

The regional security system is also hindered by the complexity of the fast development of China, the growing military ambition of Japan, a more powerful Russia, a deeply involved US, and a South Korea that is stuck between seeking security and unification.

China, however, plays a crucial role in preventing the numerous confrontations from breaking out into regional conflict. It has played a very active role in regional economic cooperation, from which it has built considerable influence.

The possibility of a large-scale war is significantly reduced. As the security framework in Northeast Asia shifts, it seems hard to imagine that six decades from now the Korean Peninsula could still be locked in a delicate military balance.

Long-term regional stablity in the future will depend on struggles at the negotiation table, not the battlefield.