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Rising Possibility of Declaration for Ending Korean War

The countdown to the June 12 North Korea-U.S. summit in Singapore has begun. Ahead of the summit, which some describe as the “negotiations of the century,” attention turns to the possibility of a declaration of an end to the Korean War.

During a meeting with high-ranking North Korean official Kim Yong-chol on June 1, U.S. President Donald Trump confirmed that the summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un would take place as planned and also mentioned the possibility of a declaration of an end to the Korean War. Here is Yang Moo-jin, professor at the University of North Korean Studies, to explain.

This year will mark the 65th anniversary of the signing of the Korean War armistice agreement. The Cold War disappeared all over the world, except on the Korean Peninsula, where the confrontational structure of the Cold War still remains. Moreover, the divided peninsula has been in the state of a ceasefire. In a sign of relief, however, a peaceful mood has been maintained in the region since January this year, with North Korea participating in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in the South in February. The inter-Korean summit in April acted as a guide to the upcoming North Korea-U.S. summit, which will hopefully facilitate the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the establishment of a peace regime. I believe the summit will be a great chance for South Korea to lay the foundation for a peaceful unification. Trump mentioned the issue of an end-of-war declaration at a meeting with North Korean envoy Kim Yong-chol, indicating that the declaration can be made around the North Korea-U.S. summit.

The Korean War armistice was signed by the U.S.-led United Nations Command, North Korea and China on July 27, 1953. Sixty-five years have passed since then, but the divided Koreas technically remain at war. If the end of the war is declared after the North Korea-U.S. summit, the decades-long Korean War will officially end. Of course, the declaration of an end to the war will not be legally binding, as it is an agreement, not an international treaty. But given the unique geopolitical traits of the Korean Peninsula that has long been in a state of armistice, the end-of-war declaration is expected to dispel distrust between South and North Korea and to serve as a catalyst for the conclusion of a peace treaty. So, why did Trump bring up this important issue?

I think Trump directly mentioned this issue because he wants to elicit North Korea’s denuclearization by implying that he can provide a security guarantee for the North. There are not any international norms on how to end war. But scholars present three ways, namely, declaring an end to the war, signing a peace treaty and establishing diplomatic relations. One of the three methods or all of them can be employed. It seems Trump’s strategy is to implement the three ways in order, while North Korea accepts the declaration of an end to the war as the first step toward a guarantee of regime security. The declaration is significant since it can ease North Korea’s security concerns and smooth the progress of denuclearization. If the declaration is made at the North Korea-U.S. summit, it will lay the solid foundation for a peace treaty and the formation of diplomatic relations between North Korea and the U.S.

The declaration of a formal end to the Korean War could be a first step toward ending North Korea-U.S. hostility, which has lasted for more than half a century. For North Korea, in particular, the declaration of an end to the war, along with the subsequent signing of a peace treaty and the establishment of diplomatic ties with the U.S., will lead to a security assurance for the nation. Apparently, an end-of-war declaration is emerging as a positive factor to heighten the possibility of a successful summit between North Korea and the U.S. Now, attention swings to whether South Korean President Moon Jae-in will visit Singapore to join the declaration process.

For now, it is possible that the end of war may be declared in the presence of President Moon. This issue was stated in the Panmunjeom Declaration that was adopted at the inter-Korean summit in April. It was reportedly discussed in depth at the South Korea-U.S. summit as well. Both Trump and Kim Jong-un feel the need to solve their issues swiftly. Considering the two leaders’ views and the South Korean president’s strong commitment to peace, Seoul, Pyongyang and Washington could declare an end to the war in Singapore.

President Moon has consistently persuaded the U.S. to declare an end to the war as a means of ending its hostile relations with North Korea and to provide a security guarantee to the North in exchange for Pyongyang’s denuclearization.

I’m hoping to push for a declaration to end the war through a three-way meeting involving the U.S. and the two Koreas, if the North Korea-U.S. summit turns out to be a success.

On May 27, when Moon announced the outcome of his second summit with Kim Jong-un, he expressed his hope for a declaration of an end to the war at a trilateral meeting. But there are difficult tasks to contend with. China, which is another signatory to the Korean War armistice agreement, has signaled its willingness to participate in the end-of-war declaration discussions. So it is still uncertain how and when the end of war will be declared. Another problem is that the declaration, even if it is made, is a political agreement, not a treaty.

Declaring an end to the war is sort of a political declaration that shows commitment to ending the war and presents the basic principle and direction of promoting peace in the future. President Moon is said to believe that the declaration should go in tandem with the signing of a peace treaty for a stronger institutional guarantee of the end of war. That’s why the Panmunjeom Declaration states that the South and the North will declare a formal end to the Korean War and work toward a peace treaty within this year. The end-of-war declaration will be less meaningful if it is viewed separately from a peace treaty. For a more solid settlement of peace on the Korean Peninsula, the two concepts should be considered together.

Trump stressed that the North Korea-U.S. summit would be the beginning, indicating that it will be difficult to solve the issues of declaring an end to the war and signing a peace treaty all at once. We’ll have to wait and see how the historic declaration will proceed to officially end the Korean war.

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