13th Hamburg Discourse: The North Korea Crisis
Autors: Verena Hoffmann & Jonathan Scheffler; Photos: Katharina Roggmann
Hamburg, 14 March 2018
Rear Admiral Schneider opening the 13th Hamburg Discourse
A very interested audience in the completely filled Gneisenau Hall
Professor Michael Staack talking about the interdependencies between the four dimensions of the North Korea Crisis
Panel discussion with moderator Jörn Thießen
Major General (ret.) Gerber
Exchange of ideas (from left to right Jörn Thießen and Werner Sonne)
“The world has come loose from its moorings”
With these words, the Deputy Commandant welcomed the audience filling the auditorium of the Manfed Wörner Center to the limit. Altogether, some 300 civilian and military listeners had come to the BwCSC on that evening, showing that Germany’s population is well aware of the threat potential the North Korea Crisis represents for Germany and Europe. The welcome address was followed by a presentation by Professor Michael Staack, who clearly outlined Germany's role in this play of different interests not only between the world's major powers, i.e. the United States, Russia and China, but also between North and South Korea, the countries directly affected by the crisis. Moreover, he pointed out that Germany has first-hand experience with the division of its territory into two separate states and has thus quite something to contribute. In the subsequent panel discussion, the audience saw a lively and interesting debate among the experts and was also given the opportunity to ask questions.
Thinking coolly, planning and acting bravely
As an expert of cooperative security and former member of Germany's advisory group to South Korea on the foreign policy considerations of the reunification of Korea, Staack explained the interdependencies between the four dimensions of the North Korea Crisis. He first outlined the threat North Korea's nuclear weapon potential poses to the international order, then described the not only rhetorical confrontation lines between North Korea and the United States, the hegemonic conflict between the United States and China and, last but not least, provided background information on the conflict between the two separated Koran states. He warned that putting North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un down as the unpredictable «little rocket man» would mean to underestimate him and his rational and coolly thought out security policy. "After all, this isolated country managed to acquire highly strategic knowledge and in 2013, it attracted worldwide attention as an aggressor to be reckoned with. Thanks to his ambitious nuclear program, Kim Jong Un managed to ensure the survival of his regime and prevented his country from being attacked." By pursuing his confrontation course especially vis-à-vis the United States, he has demonstrated strength not only to his own population but also to the US.
Re-unification of both Koreas a viable option?
Even though both countries on the Korean Peninsula have laid down their goal of re-unification in their respective constitutions, Kim Jong Un's only interest has been to retain his power. He would agree to a reunification only under terms dictated by his regime, which would mean for South Korea to turn its back on the United States and its influence. It is obvious that this is not a viable option for South Korea. South Korean President Moon Jae In has successfully pursued a policy of détente and maintained the dialog between both states in order to uphold the possibility of a reunification. It is, however, doubtful whether the South Korean population is interested in a reunification of both Korean states. The majority of the younger generation of South Koreans rejects a reunification as they do not have any family ties to North Korea and do not want to pay for the reconstruction of a bankrupt system. In the subsequent panel discussion moderated by Jörn Thießen, head of the Faculty of Political/Strategic Studies and Social Sciences at the BwCSC, it quickly became clear that a solution to the nuclear threat scenario is much more probable than a reunification of both Koreas.
Germany’s role within the North Korea Crisis
"With their capability of more precise nuclear weapons of variable destructive power, Russia and the United States are currently in a dangerous arms race that China is watching very critically," Staack told the audience. If communication with North Korea should be discontinued and if the sanctions were to be maintained, then North Korea could become a potential provider of nuclear technology. Other countries could follow its example and try to use their nuclear deterrence potential to assert political demands. In order to prevent such a scenario, Staack suggests that Germany offer its help as a diplomatic intermediary in the North Korea Crisis. Germany does not only have partnership programs and close contacts with both North and South Korea and shares with them the common experience of the separation of a country but also knows from its own historical experience that for a separated country, armed conflict is not a solution at all.
What do we know about North Korea's actual arsenal?
This question was answered by Lieutenant Colonel (GS) Andre Zechmeister from the Faculty of Political/Strategic Studies and Social Sciences. Holding a degree in political sciences, he already followed the development of North Korea with great interest during his studies, and for about ten years, he has been observing the country "being held hostage by the Kim family" very intensively. According to Zechmeister, North Korea has a functioning and operational arsenal of biological and chemical weapons which could be employed with the delivery systems the country possesses. However, it is not known whether North Korea has the capability to produce adequate engines for its long-range missile that might also reach America. Whether North Korea will manage to obtain such engines via other channels remains to be seen.