[Herald Interview] ‘Military confidence-building is key to reducing tensions on Peninsula’

By Sohn Ji-young
  • Published : Jul 10, 2017 - 17:17
  • Updated : Jul 10, 2017 - 17:36

Despite North Korea’s persistent missile provocations and nuclear threat, South Korea should engage with the North and build trust with it to reduce the risk of an all-out war on the peninsula, a senior United Nations official said.

Daniel Prins, chief of the United Nation’s Conventional Arms Branch, said taking confidence-building measures on the military area is “absolutely essential” to avoid misperception between the two Koreas, whose cross-border exchanges have been suspended since the North’s nuclear and missile test last year.

“The point of military confidence-building is that you have to try constantly. You know it would fail. You know that whatever you proposed will be discarded by other sides. But you may find areas of convergence and cooperation,” Prins said in an interview with The Korea Herald.

“Further characterization of military confidence-building is that you don’t need to necessarily have (a) full package of everything. You can just pick and choose which measure may work. It may be a tiny one. The point is to try to find those measures that can have initial agreement with the other side.”

Daniel Prins, chief of the United Nation’s Conventional Arms Branch (Park Hyun-goo/The Korea Herald)

Prins came to Seoul in late June to attend the fourth International Defense Technology and Security Conference hosted by the Defense Acquisition Program Administration. The interview took place before North Korea launched what it claimed to be an intercontinental ballistic missile on July 4.

In his address at the Korber Foundation in Germany on Thursday, President Moon Jae-in called for the “immediate and complete” suspension of hostile activities along the inter-Korean border from July 24, which will mark the 64th anniversary of an armistice agreement on the Korean War.

Moon’s proposal will pave the way to dispelling mistrust on cross-border military activities, Prins stressed, highlighting that the two Koreas still have opportunities to work with each other because they are under an armistice condition. 

“It is in the middle region where it’s interesting to do military confidence-building. … We can also think of exchange of personnel either in training, exercising and military educations. You can think of exchanges of observers at military exercises, informing each other’s military exercise before you started doing that.”

Moon’s other engagement approach toward the North -- such as the reunion of families separated since the Korean War and the invitation of North Korea to the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics -- should be embraced as a “starting point” to build a platform to resolve political and military issue.

“We have seen in the past how areas of culture and sports serve as good opportunities for (an) effective confidence-building measure. These are areas of policies that are often perceived as non-threatening to each other.”
Daniel Prins, chief of the United Nation’s Conventional Arms Branch (Park Hyun-goo/The Korea Herald)

Prins acknowledged that building confidence with North Korea is a time-consuming process, noting there is no safeguard for being cheated by the North who abandoned its pledge to give up its nuclear weapons and programs in 2005.

Despite the harsh reality of international politics, where sovereign states make their own security choices, the measure is still worth a try because it can help the two Koreas discuss more complicated, arduous issues, the UN diplomat added.

“In the end, countries are sovereign entities that makes their own decisions that may be perceived as disappointing. That is the reality of the politics. We have to deal with (the) murky, difficult and complicated situation we have been handed down.”

“The point of confidence-building is that under it lies a more important thing: procedures. If some measures go well, you can see if something else would work out. That is where you want to go and build a platform to discuss other issues.”

By Yeo Jun-suk (