The Korean Peninsula is often thought of as a volatile region, a dangerous region, an unpredictable ‘weaponised’ region. In particular, the United States has accused North Korea of being a threat to regional peace and stability.
Objectively, there is some truth to all of this, but the Demilitarised Zone separating the two Korean states is far less unstable than the Syria/Iraq border which is currently controlled by ISIS.
But when it comes to threatening regional instability and causing bloodshed, there is one place that is vastly more deadly and volatile than the Korean Peninsula: the battle-zone between Kiev controlled Ukraine and the Donbass Republics.
Despite the fact that the North and South Korea are technically still at war, the region has been remarkably stable and calm since the ceasefire which ended the hot conflict on the peninsula in 1953.
Despite occasional worrying movements on the DMZ (demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas), since 1953, life in North Korea and South Korea has been allowed to develop in such a way that all Koreans live their daily lives in a normal way according to the standards that each unique Korean state has set for its citizens over the decades since the hot period of the Korean War.
For all of its rhetorical bluster, North Korea remains technically committed to a ‘no first strike’ policy in respect of nuclear weapons. Because of this, letting a sleeping dog lie would be good advice for the more hawkish forces in Washington.
Compare this to the Ukraine/Donbass conflict.
1. Duration and Nature of the Conflicts
Ukraine, a country which between 1991 and 2014 was united, but with deep political divisions, has split. The Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk were proclaimed after the fascist coup in Kiev and since then, the regular forces, mercenaries and terrorists loyal to Kiev have been invading and attacking the two Donbass Republics, almost without cessation and in total violation of the Minsk II ceasefire agreement, which unlike the successful Korean War ceasefire, was dead on arrival.
The Ukrainian war of aggression against the Donbass Republics which started in February of 2014 and still rages, has all ready gone on for longer than the 3 year and 1 month hot period of Korean War which lasted between June of 1950 and July of 1953, before the ceasefire took effect.
Augmenting this have been attempted terrorist attacks on neighbouring Russia, attacks which were thankfully thwarted by the Russian security services.
By contrast, the last time any North Koreans violated the ceasefire with the South was in 1975 when North Korean soldiers committed an ‘axe murder’ of two American soldiers chopping down a tree in the DMZ.
When all was said and done, America reacted by chopping down the rest of the tree as a ‘show of force’.
2. Chemical Weapons
Whilst no heavy weapons have been fired from one Korean state to another since 1953, Ukraine is guilty of using illegal chemical weapons on civilian targets in Donbass. The Russian Investigative Committee came to the conclusion that white phosphorus was Kiev’s chemical weapon of choice when attacking Donbass.
While death has not been a daily feature of Korean life since 1953, the same cannot be said for Donbass. As of December 2016, the UN reports that nearly 10,000 people, including women and children were killed in the Donbass conflict and many suggest the UN figure is low compared to the even grimmer realities on the ground. Many more, including civilians have been killed since then.
Beyond the deaths, torture and rape, including child rape has been a feature of Kiev’s war of aggression. No such analogue exists in the Korean states.
4. Political Maturity
Although both Koreas have a goal of uniting the peninsula under their respective flags and in turn do not acknowledge the political legitimacy of the other state, in reality, both accept the fact that for the foreseeable future they’ll have to live side by side.
Not even the most radical anti-communists in the South plan to storm across the border in a ‘liberation war’ nor will North Korea turn Seoul into a ‘sea of flame’ unless provoked. It’s all bombastic rhetoric and has been since the 1950s.
Just as East and West Germany lived side by side without engaging in war, a similar ‘cold peace’ exists between North and South Korea.
By contrast, Ukraine is totally confused about its own position on the Donbass Republics. On the one hand, they claim that the territory is part of a unitary Ukrainian state, but on the other, they cut off water, electricity and other vital supplies to the Republics. Ukraine has legally removed the rights of Russian speakers throughout the country and has purged Russian from Ukrainian media.
The Kiev regime refuses to allow trains from Donbass into Kiev controlled regions and they do not issue passports and birth certificates in Donbass, which has led Russia to now fully accept legal ID issued in the Donbass Republics as legitimate documents. Ukraine calls the Donbass people terrorists, ‘Russian agents’ and everything else to make them as distant as possible. By contrast, neither Pyongyang and Seoul challenge the ‘Koreaness’ for those on the other side of the DMZ.
Vladimir Putin said just yesterday, that it isn’t Moscow which somehow lured the Donbass Republics into its realm but rather, Kiev simply cut them off, isolated them, alienated them and pushed them away. One could add historical inevitability to this list.
5. The Nuclear Question
While there are no longer nuclear weapons on Ukrainian territory, there are many nuclear power facilities and most are in a state of total disrepair. Ukraine’s nuclear sector is among the least safe in the world. The combination of lack of funds and a disorganised central government has allowed a situation to develop that could result in another Chernobyl style disaster.
The Energy Post describes the Ukrainian nuclear sector as being plagued by “persistent safety problems”.
In an article from 2016, the Energy Post describes how Ukraine’s neighbours live in fear of another nuclear meltdown on Ukrainian territory,
“Ukraine’s neighbours are also concerned. Romania, Slovakia, Hungary and Austria have sent multiple questions for clarification and requests for participation in trans-boundary consultations. But Kiev, in response, denied its obligation to conduct any.
One might think that this experience, or perhaps civil society’s repeated warnings, would make decision makers reconsider this reckless adventure. But not the Ukrainian government”.
While ‘nuclear war’ is a better headline than ‘nuclear safety concerns’, the fact is that since 1945, the world’s biggest nuclear disasters have been the result of poorly managed nuclear power facilities and not nuclear weapons.
In this sense, Ukraine’s ‘nuclear problem’ is a graver danger to global safety than North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme which thus far has never fired a missile in anger.
Between 2014 and the present day, Ukraine has killed more innocent civilians than either Korean state has even attempted to do since 1953. Ukraine has broken ceasefire agreements on a daily basis while the Korean states have not. Ukraine has deployed chemical weapons on civilians while neither Korean state has done so and unlike the quiet Korean political conflict, Kiev’s war of aggression is going on at this very moment.
Furthermore, Ukraine’s silent nuclear problem is manifestly more worrying than North Korea’s weapons programme.
Objectively, no one could argue that either Korean state is as dangerous or as volatile as post-coup Ukraine.