[Column] N. Korea’s preconditions for an end-of-war declaration

Posted on : 2021-11-03 17:37 KST Modified on : 2021-11-03 17:37 KST
North Korea’s broad preconditions for issuing an end-of-war declaration only encumber progress toward an end of hostility
Kim Yong-hyun
Kim Yong-hyun

By Kim Yong-hyun, professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University

South Korean President Moon Jae-in proposed a declaration officially ending the Korean War during a recent address before the UN General Assembly. In response, North Korea has been demanding an end to “double standards” and “hostile policies” as preconditions for issuing such a declaration.

It’s worth considering what these conditions signify and how South Korea should respond.

To begin, what Pyongyang means by “double standards” is explained in a Sept. 25 press statement by Workers’ Party of Korea Central Committee Deputy Director Kim Yo-jong, in which she explained that “the DPRK's actions of self-defensive dimension” are “dismissed as threatening ‘provocations,” while “[South Korea’s] arms buildup are described as the ‘securing of a deterrent to north Korea.’”

But insisting that the other side must comply with the standards the one side dictates is no way to resolve the issues that exist between South and North. A solution needs to be sought through dialogue, with respect for existing inter-Korean agreements and the norms of the international community.

The reason the international community banned North Korea from conducting ballistic missile launches by way of UN Security Council resolutions is that those weapons were developed in violation of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). North Korea’s nuclear program is also in violation of the pledge made in 1992 in the Joint Declaration of South and North Korea on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

If Pyongyang does harbor discontentment and differences over the South’s military activities, a better approach would be to make use of the inter-Korean joint military committee — established in accordance with the military agreement reached by the two sides on Sept. 19, 2018 — to discuss matters of mutual interest, including military exercises and arms buildups.

The two sides should be putting their heads together to come up with ways to minimize the threat through greater transparency and predictability in each side’s military activities. They also should be working toward a gradual arms reduction based on eased military tensions and trust-building measures, as they previously agreed to do.

The “hostile policies” noted in the second condition is a concept that Pyongyang has repeatedly invoked as a justification for its own nuclear and missile development activities.

In a recent UN General Assembly speech, Kim Song, North Korea’s ambassador to the UN, said that “hostile policy” was not an abstraction, but existed in the form of military threats and hostile activities by the US on an ordinary basis. He also defined the relationship between North Korea and the US as one between belligerents still legally in a state of war, adding that North Korea existed under the permanent threat of war.

Pyongyang’s calls for a unilateral withdrawal of “hostile policies” are unlikely to gain traction. It’s also not the sort of issue that can be resolved in a short time frame. It’s one that must fundamentally be resolved through dialogue, negotiations, and trust-building measures, pursued under a phased and simultaneous approach in conjunction with denuclearization.

The sort of end-of-war declaration that Moon is proposing would be a highly meaningful step in terms of discussing changes to the armistice system at the root of the current hostile relationship — a starting point for establishing permanent peace and a catalyst for denuclearization.

It would be a political declaration, with the current Armistice Agreement left in place until such time as a peace agreement is signed. It would also be a useful means of building mutual trust without any major costs or abrupt changes to the status quo in military terms.

Rather than simply naming its preconditions for an end-of-war declaration, North Korea should be adopting a more forward-looking approach to dialogue aimed at easing hostility and achieving denuclearization. The US has repeatedly stated that it bears no hostile intent toward the North and is prepared to meet without any preconditions.

Moreover, since it was the US that first broached the topic of an end-of-war declaration during a summit with South Korea in November 2006, I look forward to seeing it lend its backing to the pursuit of one now.

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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