You say you want reunification? Fine, then. Dig up the mines along the DMZ and open the border. No, I’m not kidding:
The South Korean military said Monday it has removed some 1,300 land mines this year from the country’s rural areas bordering North Korea, a reminder of the tense 1950-53 Korean War that ended in a truce. In the operations that lasted from April to November, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) mobilized 3,300 personnel to remove mines from a total of 100,000 square meters of land south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), it said in a release. Since starting the operations in 1999, JCS has cleared 65,000 mines.
“It was a rewarding operation as we moved carefully not to disrupt the natural environment of the areas we cleared,” Maj. Jeong Heon-min, operation chief, was quoted as saying. Land mines pose a threat to civilians working in remote areas near the DMZ, especially farmers. JCS said it plans to clear 140,000 square meters of land next year. The areas covered this year included Yeoncheon-gun on the west and Goseong-gun on the east. Both abut the military demarcation line with North Korea. [Yonhap]
This will no doubt induce gasps of fear from some, but if you look deeper, you will realize what a shrewd decision this just might be. The mines were placed there at a time when a North Korean invasion was a serious threat, a time that is long gone. Sure, the North Koreans could increase their infiltration of a de-mined DMZ, but the North could do the same via commercial flights, by sea, or through any of the remaining tunnels under the DMZ.
The greater significance of an impassible DMZ is that it prevents North Korea’s southern border from becoming what its northern border has already become — a pipeline for information, goods, money, radios, DVD’s, and refugees. Think how North Korea has been fighting a losing war to maintain the isolation of its population, despite the efforts of its army and border guards, and even with the assistance of a ruthlessly friendly dictatorship to its North. With all of the constraints China’s presence imposes on North Korea’s northern border, de-mining the southern border will vastly increase the North Korean regime’s difficulties in maintaining the isolation of its people. Replacing the DMZ with a semi-open border would allow the South to set up camps to hold, feed, care for, and educate refugees, to soften the blow of inevitable regime collapse, and even become a host to a broad-based opposition movement. With the threat of an invasion now greatly diminished, it’s plausible that within five years, the DMZ could become what the Austro-Hungarian border was in 1989. It could also become a means for more South Koreans to acquire a more accurate understanding of life in the North than what previous South Korean governments had led them to believe.
Indeed, one wonders whether the North could even complain about such a move without implicitly acknowledging what a prison it is. That’s why the shrewdest thing Lee Myung Bak could do would be to remove all of the anti-personnel mines, to remove everything that impedes pedestrian traffic across the DMZ except for immigration control centers on the South Korean side. Otherwise, leave only the sensors, the ROK Army patrols, the anti-tank berms and barriers, and any anti-tank mines whose pressure plates are set to destroy heavy vehicles.