By Oh Young-jin
If there could be lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula after two summits by the end of May, all three protagonists ― President Moon Jae-in, U.S. President Donald Trump and, yes, North Korea’s young dictator Kim Jong-un ― would deserve a piece of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.
True, we would have moral reservations about giving them the award.
Receiving the greatest objections would be Kim, the grandson of the North’s founder, Kim Il-sung, who led a southern invasion at the start of the 1950-53 Korean War. The third-generation dictator in the anachronistic dynasty has demonstrated his disdain for human rights, with gulags, cold-blooded purges and mass killings.
|Nobel Prize medallion / Nobelprize.org|
The thirty-something allegedly ordered his agents smear a deadly chemical on the face of his elder brother-in-exile at a busy international airport.
He also had his uncle mowed down by fire from anti-aircraft guns. His father, Kim Jong-il, masterminded numerous terrorist acts, including blowing up a South Korean airliner. Under his watch, and toward the end of his life, the North staged a torpedo attack on the frigate Cheonan, killing 46 South Korean sailors.
In Trump’s case, the list of reasons for his disqualification is long, pointing to him being an elected dictator. These include allegedly getting help from an enemy state, Russia, in the election, suppressing freedom of expression, and going back on key international agreements such as the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal. And he is openly looking down on and antagonizing Muslims at the risk of triggering a clash.
He treats women like sexual playthings. Why he is not on the #MeToo list is a mystery, although it is not entirely inexplicable. Giving him the Nobel Peace Prize is like endorsing Trump’s misogyny and misanthropy.
|President Moon Jae-in / Yonhap|
For Moon, he has his share of detractors, although by comparison he is better qualified than the other two. He worked as a human rights lawyer, lacks any moral flaws to speak of and is playing a key role as an honest broker in bringing the leaders of the two archrivals to the negotiating table. But his attempt to reconcile with the North raises objections from the nation that saw millions killed, its infrastructure destroyed during the conflict 65 years ago and has been kept in a semi state of war since.
But we have a lesson to learn from the first South-North summit in 2000. As a result of it and reconciliatory moves that followed, President Kim Dae-jung, the champion of the “sunshine policy,” was given the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway, that year. Then there were rumors that Kim Jong-il, Kim Dae-jung’s northern counterpart, was upset and felt betrayed by the southern leader.
Kim Dae-jung’s policy faltered after U.S. President George W. Bush turned hard line but it remains debatable what would have happened if the North’s Kim had been Nobel-recognized.
The northern dictator might have stepped out of his cocoon and reached out to the world.
By now the North could have turned into a normally functioning member of the international community or collapsed while opening up and merged with the South. Either way, the North’s nuclear and missile programs would not have been much of a threat.
|U.S. President Donald Trump / Reuters|
Our collective conscience is the biggest stumbling block in awarding the three leaders a Nobel Peace Prize.
One way of soothing our aching heart is to think of the prize as an incentive for them to stick to their words of peace. After all, the list of Nobel Prize winners includes many villains and the reason they got the prize was not always because they were agents of peace but for the bigger purpose of binding them to a better behavior. Every award carries that intrinsic element of rectifying bad behavior.
If the prestigious award were given to people with less than upright standing, it would not contradict the intention of the founder, who wanted to launch it in the hope of gaining redemption from the deadly toll of his invention ― dynamite.
All told, it comes down to conscience set against the chance of achieving peace that can spare the world a bloody war, save people’s lives, give Koreans a chance of living for the first time in a century without the fear of war or persecution and relieve the world of the threat of nuclear conflict.
One may talk about the prematurity of such a thought as the two summits are yet to be held ― the inter-Korean summit in the truce village of Panmunjom in late April and the U.S.-North Korea summit by May, with its venue to be fixed. But the sooner we offer the prospect of the leaders winning the award, the better.
One case in point is Barack Obama’s prize win in 2009 when he took office as U.S. president. Although he left office without completing his peace effort, he had been under pressure until the end of his term to contribute as much as possible to the cause. In his final full year as leader, he made the first trip of a U.S. president to Hiroshima ― one of the two Japanese cities the United States dropped nuclear bombs on at the end of World War II ― to press for a world without nuclear weapons.
The same could happen with the three leaders, especially Trump and Kim, by dangling the award-winning chance before them and encouraging them to find a compromise.
One would say that if a Nobel Prize could maintain world peace, the world would not be in so much danger in the first place. Would it? Surely there have been many close calls on the global stage that have been averted by one small difference-making effort. If the Nobel Peace Prize makes for that small effort, why not give it a shot ― well in advance?
Oh Young-jin (firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com) is the digital managing editor of The Korea Times.