After the tumult of 2017 that threatened war between the U.S. and North Korea, the PyeongChang Peace Initiative bloomed in the spring of 2018 and bore two fruits: The ROK-DPRK Panmunjeom Declaration of April 27 and the U.S.-DPRK Sentosa Agreement of June 12.
However, over the summer, progress appears to have stalled.
After dropping the phrase CVID (Complete, Verifiable, and Irreversible Denuclearization) in favor of “complete denuclearization,” the U.S. appears to have doubled down on it, demanding that North Korea denuclearize without taking any peace initiatives.
However, both the Panmunjeom and the Sentosa documents focus on peacebuilding. The Sentosa Agreement even mentions “peace guarantee” before it mentions “denuclearization” and lists “peace regime” (item #2) before “complete denuclearization” (item #3). In effect, what the parties agreed to was complete denuclearization in exchange for peace and security guarantees.
For its part, North Korea demands an incremental approach that simultaneously matches peacebuilding steps with disarmament steps. The first step they have repeatedly noted with some frustration throughout the summer is the End of War Declaration.
Now, reports indicate a possible breakthrough: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo may meet Chairman Kim Jong Un this month. President Moon Jae-in and Chairman Kim have scheduled the third summit. President Donald Trump tweeted that he looked forward to meeting Chairman Kim again “soon.”
The U.S. may accept the End of War Declaration in exchange for North Korea declaring its nuclear and long-range missile inventory with IAEA inspection.
However, if there is going to be permanent peace and denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula, the peace and security guarantee North Korea demands for complete denuclearization requires achieving two more goal posts: A Peace Treaty and a Peace Regime.
Conceptually, it is not too complicated: If you exchange the End of War Declaration for the declaration of nuclear and long-range missile inventory, you can swap the Peace Treaty for freezing all research, processing, and production. Shortly after, you can trade the Peace Regime for the full dismantlement of all nuclear weapons facilities and stockpiles as well as long-range missiles.
Of note, a Peace Treaty is a more significant hurdle than an End of War Declaration because it may require the approval of the legislative bodies of the participating countries. In the case of DPRK and ROK, constitutional amendments may be needed to extend mutual recognition.
The added challenge is that the U.S. Senate, which would have to ratify the treaty for the U.S., may balk at ending the Korean War, ensconced as it is under the weight of the military industrial complex. Whether the South Korean National Assembly may ratify mutual recognition is also questionable.
A Peace Regime, on the other hand, requires international cooperation. In return for North Korea finally denuclearizing, the UN and the UNSC should pass resolutions endorsing both the End of War Declaration and the Peace Treaty. Further, they should commit to defending the integrity of the two Koreas from all external threats and each other, except for peaceful unification. We should handle humanitarian concerns separately.
At each step, we must gradually lift the sanctions. The North Korean military industrial complex likely constitutes a large part of the economy. The country may suffer a significant instability if the resources and personnel become suddenly unemployed. They need the time and the incentive to transition to peaceful activities. They should also have the option of continuing peaceful nuclear and aerospace industries under the watchful eye of the IAEA and under threat of reintroduction of sanctions.
Finally, in the spirit of denuclearizing the entire Korean Peninsula, South Korean and U.S. forces in Korea should mirror each step North Korea takes. Both should inventory all existing nuclear or long-range missile assets, pledge to dismantle and remove them, and open themselves up to IAEA inspection.
All in all, the process would create not only a permanent peace and security regime on the Korean Peninsula but re-align the geopolitical and economic structure of the Northeast Asian region. It would turn the Korean Peninsula into a neutral, demilitarized, peaceful, and commercial hub. The gains in peace, security, and economic growth by all regional players and the world, including the U.S., should well outweigh the perceived losses. All concerned are encouraged to work hard and cooperate in harvesting the fruits of peace.