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                                                                                                 Wolfgang Nowak brandished diplomatic experience as a German politician in advising the South Korean government and Western society about achieving inter-Korean peace. Courtesy of Wolfgang Nowak
Wolfgang Nowak brandished diplomatic experience as a German politician in advising the South Korean government and Western society about achieving inter-Korean peace. Courtesy of Wolfgang Nowak

Former German politician and advisor to Sejong Institute alerts against hardline policies towards Pyongyang's nuclear propaganda

By Ko Dong-hwan

Former German politician Wolfgang Nowak had trudged the waters of both West and East Germany before their unification in 1990. He saw how East Germany, also known as the German Democratic Republic (GDR), stalled behind West Germany, but how both states never gave up on unification by signing the Basic Treaty in 1972, which allowed mutual cooperation on business, science, telecommunications and culture during the years that followed.

Following economic failures by the GDR government that forced borrowing loans from the West and people constantly escaping the impoverished state to the more opulent West, the Wall in Berlin collapsed in 1989 and so did the GDR's economy the following year. Nowak became a state secretary in the first government of the Free State of Saxony in eastern Germany in 1990 and fulfilled the duty until 1994. He witnessed how the country that was once split by an evident East-West disparity came to a common term and how much effort it took for the eastern Germany to reconstruct its international recognition on par with its neighboring region for almost 30 years.

Following decades of serving the public in senior positions in Germany's state and federal governments, Nowak's current role exposes him as international advisor to the South Korean think tank, Sejong Institute.

How does the seasoned politician who experienced German unification see the current standoff between North Korea that wields nuclear weapons as its only bargaining chip and South Korea that wants to persuade the North they shouldn't do so? It won't work out ― as long as the two sides keep exchanging unfruitful volleys over the North's denuclearization by being restrained by their own perspectives.

"South Koreans treat North Koreans like pupils," Nowak said in an interview with The Korea Times on Saturday. "They always use the expression of 'sticks and carrots.' Well, the North Koreans neither like sticks nor carrots. They're not donkeys and they're not children."

                                                                                                 Wolfgang Nowak brandished diplomatic experience as a German politician in advising the South Korean government and Western society about achieving inter-Korean peace. Courtesy of Wolfgang Nowak
Ri Su-yong, left, who served as North Korea's Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2014 to 2016, meets Wolfgang Nowak in Pyongyang in 2017. Nowak was invited by the Workers' Party of Korea, the ruling party within the North Korean regime. Anonymous credit

Sticks mean sanctions against Pyongyang from the U.N. and the United States that were designed to stifle North Korea's global trade and shrivel living conditions of the state's public and cause desperation. Carrots signify friendly gestures by the Western world to lift the sanctions in exchange for the state's renunciation of nuclear weapons. Nowak argues that sanctions will never work out. Instead, the two Koreas, he said, must build mutual trust first.

"I was really shocked when I heard South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol said he was thinking of a preemptive strike (against Pyongyang)," said Nowak, referring to the remark Yoon made when he was running for the presidency before the March election. "The North Korean army is no match technically for the South Korean army. And North Korea knows this. This will be a guerilla war which the North cannot win. But on the other hand, Yoon's remark lets North Koreans say that the only way to stop a preemptive strike is answering it with a preemptive nuclear weapon. This was a very bad beginning (for the Yoon administration)."

Nowak was also critical of Seoul's repeated military exercises with the U.S. He said such drills could easily turn into an actual war, calling it "bad maneuvers."

"It has been seen from Taiwan (threatened by China) and Ukraine (attacked by Russia). It's a drill without blood. But you just change the button and then it becomes a bloody war," said Nowak. "The maneuver raises in North Korea the danger of food shortage as well because soldiers cannot join agricultural activities (due to military tension) during harvest seasons. South Korea should pursue no more military exercises. The farther the two go apart from each other, the harder they will crash against each other."

                                                                                                 Wolfgang Nowak brandished diplomatic experience as a German politician in advising the South Korean government and Western society about achieving inter-Korean peace. Courtesy of Wolfgang Nowak
Having met Ri Su-yong and other senior officials of the North Korean regime during 10 visits to Pyongyang, Nowak discussed with them how to develop the state's long-term, efficient economy in cooperation with other countries. Anonymous credit

Participating as a panelist in DMZ Forum 2022 at KINTEX in Ilsan, Gyeonggi Province, hosted by the provincial government and supported by the Ministry of Unification of South Korea on Sept. 16-17, Nowak said that both Korean states must see the world and themselves through the eyes of each other and stop allowing themselves to be drawn into the conflicts of the U.S. and China. The advice is based on his regular visits to the two Koreas since 2012 to discuss Korean affairs with governments and parties. His Pyongyang visits so far number 10, during which he met Ri Su-yong four times, who was the state's minister of foreign affairs from 2014 until 2016 and looked after Kim Jong-un in Switzerland when the North Korean regime's leader was a boy studying there.

"Young generations in the North who have some experience with foreign countries are open to the world," said Nowak. "On the other hand, they are proud to have a young leader and hope they will build a better society with him. Of course there are still lots of problems. But North Koreans, who never experienced the South, naturally relate their expectations to their regime."

The popularity of Kim Jong-un among young generations in North Korea was also mentioned in a recent study by Seoul National University's Institute for Peace and Unification Studies released last April. Over 71 percent of those in their 20s supported Kim and so did 69 percent of those in their 30s and 56 and 57 percent of those in their 40s and 50s, respectively. The improvement of living conditions among North Koreans under Kim's governance also contributed to his popularity, according to the study. Those who regularly eat rice and meat showed a steady increase in number while those who couldn't afford rice and only ate corn held contrary positions.

Nowak clarified that Europe can help with achieving inter-Korean peace ― not in an open but in behind-the-curtains fashion. He mentioned Switzerland, Sweden, Italy, Poland and Germany as potential guides, the countries he said the North has a "sort of respect for."

"But the initiative should start from South Korea," said Nowak. "Maybe from a provincial government like Gyeonggi. But it would be much easier if you involve a federal government."

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