The Korea Peninsula Issues in the United Nations

His Excellency Oh Joon

February 21, 2017 – Asia Society Korea held its first Monthly Luncheon Lecture of 2017 at the Lotte Hotel Seoul on Tuesday with Mr. Dong-Bin Shin, Chairman of the Korea Center and Lotte Group, in attendance to give the welcoming remarks. It was great to welcome back to Asia Society Korea His Excellency Oh Joon to speak about “The Korean Peninsula Issues in the United Nations”. His Excellency Oh Joon is former Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Republic of Korea and was incidentally the guest speaker at our first ever Monthly Luncheon event back in June 2008. Retiring from the diplomatic service last month, Oh Joon was able to give a fascinating insight into Peninsula issues based on his many years of experience at the UN in New York. His talk looked at the relationship between the UN and the Koreas from a historical perspective before looking at the current challenges in the region.

Following Korean independence from Japanese colonial rule in 1945, the Peninsula was immediately divided by Soviet and U.S military administrations; this spilt being formalized with the 1948 elections. The start of the Korean War in 1950 meant the United Nations had to deal with collective security for the first time and as the Soviet Union had boycotted the Council, the General Assembly had to implement its first ever “Uniting for Peace” resolution. From 1954 to 1975, the Korean question was discussed and a resolution was adopted every year in the General Assembly. In the early days of the UN, membership was mostly made up of European countries or nations friendly with the West, but with the addition of new members in the 1960’s and 70’s, the UN become more neutral. His Excellency Joon explained how in 1975, friends of both South and North Korea submitted two conflicting resolutions which were both adopted. As they both could not be implemented, Korean issues were subsequently dropped from the UN agenda.

No Korean questions were discussed in the UN between 1976 and 1991; South Korea had long wanted to become a member of the UN but was opposed by North Korea and officially blocked by the Soviet Union and China. After the Cold War ended, the North Korean allies changed their stance on membership applications and in 1991, seven new countries, including both South and North Korea, officially joined the UN. His Excellency spoke about how as there are no South Korean issues anymore, when we talk about Korea Peninsula problems in the international arena, we are referring to North Korean issues. The three important issues are nuclear, human rights and humanitarian assistance to North Korea. During the past 11 years, North Korea have conducted 5 rounds of nuclear tests and each time, 5 resolutions were passed to strengthen sanctions that included banning arms related activities, financial activities and curtailing trade.

His Excellency finished his talk by talking about the future challenges with North Korea, commenting how DRPK will be the most difficult of issues that the new Trump administration will face. He believes the current pressure of using sanctions will eventually “break the camel’s back” but is worried that political leaders may not have the appetite to wait out to see the impact of these sanctions. The alternative to using sanctions would be confrontation and this would be dangerous to everyone involved. Yet, he also spoke about how this escalation may actually lead to renewed dialogue and the DPRK can improve ties with countries around the world for the benefit of all.

*This event was sponsored by Lotte Chemical.