It was last Friday that the seven EU embassies located in Pyongyang received a formal warning by the North Korean regime to evacuate the premises and leave the country as soon as possible. As it was explicitly stated by the world’s most obscure totalitarian regime, the local authorities could not guarantee their safety after the 10th of April. The European diplomats, however, are said not to have any intention of abandoning the ship whatsoever. Is it because the EU has sent its most brave and fierce diplomats in that remote communist capital of Asia? We‘ll see about that.
North Korea in time
Let’s take things from the beginning. North Korea or Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) was split from the South Korea in 1945 during World War II. DPRK was occupied by the former Soviet Union and the South of the peninsula by the USA. A few years later, in 1950, a three year war between the two countries broke out, with the South being supported by the United Nations and the North by China and the Soviet Union. Later on in 1991 both countries became members of the United Nations. The small country of 25 million inhabitants, that was brought up with hard core Stalinistic ideals by its first leader Kim ll-sung, is today the 4th biggest military power in the world with 1.21 million active duty army. Keeping always a provocative stance against Seoul and the US Pyongyang reached very close to war with the USA in 1994. The country has been early involved in nuclear energy and in 2009 declared that it developed a nuclear weapon. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Intelligence services confirmed the potential of DPRK to fabricate nuclear weapons.
Albeit provocative, Kim Jong-il was engaging in negotiations and discussions over the country’s nuclear programme. A good example is the closure of the Yongbyon reactor in 2007. However, in December 2011 Kim Jong-il died and so did the engaging approach of the country with the rest of the world. Right after his death, it was his 30 year old son, Kim Jong-un, who came to replace him as the ruler of DPRK. At first, the world thought that that young boy, who had received European education, would be a hope for a new era in the relationships of the country’s totalitarian regime with the rest of the world. Apparently, all those great expectations were confined to a basketball game that the young dictator watched in Pyongyang with the eccentric American basketball star, Dennis Rodman, a couple of months ago.
North Korea in a state of war
Let’s now follow the current escalation of the crisis in the Korean peninsula. In December 2012 the communist regime of the Korean country launched a nuclear missile and last February it conducted a new nuclear test. All this at a time where Kim Jong-un is said to resume the operations of the Yongbyon nuclear reactor and claim the undisputed right of the country for “nuclear” power. The situation came out of control when according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency Mr Kim talking to defense industry workers on the 17th of March said the following: “Once the war breaks out, we have to destroy the enemies’ key military locations and government institutions with a quick and sudden strike; We must absolutely guarantee the quality of our artillery and shells to ensure a rapid pre-emptive attack on our enemies”. Moreover, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry, as quoted by China’s media Xinhua, stated the following: “The current question is not whether, but when a war would break out on the peninsula because of the increasing threat from the United States”. What is more, the spike of the tensions came when Yonhap news agency reported that Pyongyang loaded two mid-range Musudan missiles on mobile launchers and hid them below the ground in the east coast of the country.
As it was expected, challenges like these could not have been left unexploited by the USA that they seemed to have been looking for the right opportunity to “democratize” this part of the world as well. The US has already sent a B-52 and B-2 stealth bombers as part of joint military drills with South Korea in the region. They are also to send a spy plane to their military base in Misawa of Japan given the information that DPRK is set to launch the missiles without warning. The one of the two missiles that North Korea has hidden in the east is a Musudan with a range of 3.000 km and a KN-08 that is said to have intercontinental reach. The missiles could cover any possible target in South Korea and Japan and even reach US military bases on the Pacific island of Guam. Last Friday the Pentagon warned Pyongyang that “further provocative action would be regrettable”.
The international condemnation
While everything is ready for a new war in the Korean peninsula, Ban Ki Mun, UN Secretary General said last Thursday that he was “deeply concerned” by the escalating tension in Korea. In addition, the European Union, represented by Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign affairs chief, deplored DPRK’s announcement that it would reopen the nuclear reactor in Yongbyon, an action that is a clear violation of the UN resolutions and commitments of 2007 during the six-party talks. She also continued her statement: “Continued breaking of its international obligations… that threaten stability in the region will inevitably lead to an ever more united response by the international community”… “North Korea should refrain from fuelling further tensions and show commitment to the agreed goal of complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula,” … “Once again, I urge the (North Korean) leadership to take a constructive path and re-engage with the international community.”
EU Diplomacy in Pyongyang: In or Out?
Even if the US have tried to play down Kim Jong-un’s threats, one thing is for sure; the stealth bombers above the Korean peninsula are not there to drop water balloons whatsoever. Coming back now to the EU embassies presence there, the European diplomats of Britain, Germany, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Poland, Romania and Sweden were advised by the communist regime to leave rapidly the country for safety reasons. However, the information coming from our fellow Europeans in Pyongyang is that they have unanimously agreed not to leave. Is the International Vienna Convention, which imposes the protection of the diplomatic corps in case of war, what makes all those people relieved over there? I am afraid not.
There are two possible explanations why the EU embassies are not being evacuated in a form of a unanimous political decision. According to the first, the EU diplomatic presence there has a stability role in the country and the region. It is also the European Union’s great opportunity to prove one more time that it deserved the Nobel Prize for Peace last December. Of course, one would think that if the EU representatives take off suddenly, this can escalate even more the crisis and lead to a war where the foreign presence is taken away and the field is free for a bombing rain. There is, also, a second explanation though. According to that one, the time for a new US war conflict has come. Perhaps it is time to give an end once and for all to this North Korea story that allegedly threatens the world peace and stability. South Korea and the US were looking for the right opportunity to give a solution to this problem for a long time now. The timing seems perfect, the threats from Pyongyang are imminent and it seems that the right excuse has been at last found for military invasion in the North. Besides, it has been almost two years now since the last US war interference, which took place in Libya, and of course many American bombs and bullets have expired or close to expire and need to be used for “stock maintenance”reasons.
In every war good intelligence is the key to victory. Western diplomats in Pyongyang during a possible war are bound to be excellent information source for both Washington and Seoul. Besides, in other cases of US invasion in the past, foreign diplomacy never left the premises. I don‘t see any reason why they should now.