On Friday, January 25 the Korea Society in New York had a program featuring Glyn Ford, former UK Labour Party member of the European Parliament (1984–2009), discussing his new book “Talking to North Korea: Ending the Nuclear Standoff” published in 2018 by Pluto Press.
The format for the program was a conversation with Korea Society senior director Stephen Noerper.
Ford said he had visited North Korea almost 50 times in the past 20 years. As such he has a broad perspective of both the changes he has observed over that period and how to view the current developments on the Korean Peninsula.
Responding to a series of questions from Noerper, Ford pointed to the substantial change in North Korea he has seen since 2017 just after the 2nd ICBM launch. That was a time of great hostility and high tension. There was a real prospect of slipping accidentally into a war. That was quite a dangerous period, he noted. Viewing the developments from that perspective he pointed out that “it is amazing how quickly we have moved” to the current situation.
Ford also noted that before 2011, North Korea had been encouraged to follow the model of Libya, giving up its nuclear weapons. But one month before Kim Jong Un came to power in North Korea he saw the head of Libya killed in a very cruel way.
Ford made several references to what he felt were helpful considerations that were highlighted by being included in Kim Jong Un’s 2019 New Year’s speech. One such highlight was the emphasis put on the need for a multilateral process as a way to resolve the conflict on the peninsula. He related how the North Koreans he knows speak about when the US withdrew from the 1990s Agreed Framework, that was the end. But when the US withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) negotiated with Iran, it did not end there because the JCPOA had been negotiated with other countries which still backed it even after the US withdrew.
Also Ford pointed to the references in Kim’s New Year’s speech to North Korea’s need to solve its energy problem and how Kim refers to tidal, wind and atomic power as possible ways, along with coal, that North Korea can provide part of a solution to its need for more energy.
Ford explained the advantage he had as a member of the British Labor Party as that gave him access to the Workers Party of Korea in North Korea.
During the question period, there was a question about what security guarantees would be needed to satisfy North Korea to make a deal about denuclearization. Once again Kim Jong Un’s 2019 New Year’s speech was helpful. It proposed that guarantees that were broader than the bilateral model of the US negotiations with North Korea or with South Korea were needed. Instead a multilateral model was more appropriate. Ford pointed to the Iran deal which had a Security Council resolution, and various countries to provide security guarantees. In the case of North Korea that could include China, Russia, and South Korea.
Ford’s discussion offered a way of looking at what is happening on the Korean Peninsula with optimism. In the past such optimism has been in short supply among many of those who are the usual advisers and commentators in the West about the Korean situation.