Arbitration as a way out of the North Korean crisis - by CWP alumni William Norris

Friday, Mar 9, 2018

According to latest polls, a majority of Americans see North Korea as the greatest immediate threat to the U.S. with as many as 73 percent concerned about Kim Jung Un’s use of nuclear weapons. The world lives in fear that one more provocation in the form of a North Korean missile or nuclear test could lead to major war on the Korean Peninsula.

It is true that tensions have lessened recently with North and South Korea holding talks and, on March 8, President Trump accepting an invitationto meet with North Korean leader Kim Jung-Un “by May.”

But past efforts to engage the North have often left participants unsatisfied and disappointed. If these talks fail or lead to frustration, the temptation to resort to military force could ratchet up quickly. And if such direct engagement efforts fall short of expectations, international arbitration might provide – as it has in the past – an alternative to conflict.

As scholars who study international law and Asian politics, our question is: Could arbitration help resolve the present crisis with North Korea?

We have been here before

In 1904, war between Russia and the United Kingdom appeared imminent after the Russian Baltic fleet fired on and severely damaged six English fishing boats, killing two fisherman and wounding six others, on Dogger Bank, just a few miles off the coast of England.

The British press demanded that the “wretched Baltic fleet” be destroyed, and the Royal Navy eagerly maneuvered to do just that.

War was avoided at the last minute when the foreign ministers of both countries agreed to arbitration presided over by commissioners from Britain, Russia, the United States, France and Austria.

An international commission helped avoid war between Russia and Britain in 1905. L'Illustration

The result was a four-month interval that allowed time for tempers to cool as well as a complete inquiry and an analysis of the incident.

Ultimately Russia paid damages for the incident on Dogger Bank, and the U.K. and Russian governments were both able to step away from war while saving face with their public.

William Norris Photo

Photo by Pixabay