Don’t let North Korea exploit ‘comfort women’ issue

Editor’s Note: Republican Norm Coleman represented Minnesota in the U.S. Senate from 2003 to 2009. He serves as a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy and on the advisory council for the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition. The views expressed are his own.

Story highlights

Norm Coleman: The United States depends on South Korea and Japan to safeguard its interests in East Asia

North Korea has demonstrated willingness to exploit emotions of the "comfort women" issue, he says

CNN  — 

After many failed attempts, the success of North Korea’s recent rocket test should be a clarifying moment for the United States and its allies in Asia. When combined with North Korea’s recent underground nuclear weapons test, last month’s missile launch underscores how the precarious state of affairs in Northeast Asia threatens American national security.

The reality is that while the Cold War may have ended in Europe 25 years ago, it persists in Asia today. In addition to the North Korean threat, America and its regional allies must also confront escalating territorial disputes and challenges to regional stability in the South China Sea.

Yet, at a time when the United States must look to its allies in the region for support, these very same allies remain engaged in a Cold War of their own, but this time over issues that are more than 70 years old.

Norm Coleman

The United States depends on South Korea and Japan to safeguard its interests in East Asia. Unfortunately, both countries are still embroiled in a long-simmering conflict over the use of South Korean women in Japanese “comfort stations” during World War II. And because South Korea stands in lockstep with China and North Korea on this issue, the conflict presents new challenges to American policy in the region.

In recognition of the broader implications of this issue, the United States successfully brokered a bilateral agreement between Japan and South Korea to ultimately resolve the “comfort women” issue.

Reached late last year, the agreement codified a final Japanese apology for the use of comfort women and the establishment of an $8 million fund to provide additional reparations for the surviving women. And while this agreement certainly cannot erase the resentment this issue has engendered for many decades among South Koreans, both governments intended it to be the final political word on this issue.