After the 1950-53 Korean War a line was demarcated, an armistice signed and North and South Korea created the Korean demilitarised zone between both countries. While this armistice brought about a complete cessation of hostilities and of all acts of armed force’, the war is still ongoing until a peaceful settlement is achieved.
In April 2018, North and South Korean Presidents met and signed the Panmunjom Declaration of Peace, committing to the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula within a year, also promising to end the 65 year conflict. On top of this, Kim Jong-Un met with US President Donald Trump, didn’t even mention his abysmal TV show The Apprentice and they agreed to further discussion on denuclearisation. Despite these developments, things weren’t always hunky-dory.
A year ago, Trump was threatening North Korea with ‘fire and fury’, and angrily tweeting at the North in capital letters. The North was threatening the same, with several nuclear missile tests being conducted over the past two years.
Last December, the North’s Foreign Ministry asked ‘the remaining question now is: when will the war break out?’ A nuclear war between the U.S. and North Korea would only draw in the allies of both nations and potentially turn into something bigger, which no-one wants.
The omnipresent threat of war is part of daily life for South Koreans. 21 million of their almost 52 million population are fit for service and able to be deployed if war breaks out. The South is used to the North’s antagonism and frequent military grandstanding, but several remarkable milestones signify this may be a thing of the past.
The historic Panmunjom Declaration, coupled with North and South Korea fielding unified sporting teams under a unified flag at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, is cause for celebration. Even if denuclearisation talks become stalled, or don’t happen within the specified timeframe, it is clear that Kim Jong-Un’s foreign policy is currently that of a more open, malleable dictator.
Kim Jong-Un actually meeting with the presidents of the US and South Korea is also cause for merriment. For many years the North’s leader sat inside his protected buildings, criticising and belittling the actions of America and South Korea stating that any misstep would be cause for unilateral escalation to war. Now, the Koreas will once again march under a united flag in the upcoming Asian games, with Kim being open to more meaningful dialogue.
A denuclearised Korean Peninsula and end to the war would spell the end of South Korea’s compulsory military enrolment for men, and would allow the US to withdraw its troops from the Peninsula and focus on balancing power in other parts of Asia. Korean peace would also ease Japanese concerns about potential war with the North, as Japanese policymakers have been allocating record funding to expand their armed forces as a result of the North’s belligerence.
However, it seems that the largest obstacle facing the US and their influence on North Korea is that the Trump administration is focussing solely on denuclearisation, as opposed to stronger, meaningful ties with the North.
This idea is encapsulated in a quote by the North’s foreign ministry: ‘The US side never mentioned the issue of establishing a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula, which is essential for defusing tension and preventing a war.’ Kim Jong-Un needs the assurance of a total security guarantee if he is to relinquish his nuclear arsenal, as the purpose of creating his arsenal was to provide security and deterrence against foreign meddlers such as the US.
While it may be too soon to start praising Dennis Rodman as a messiah, vanguarding a positive cause between the US and North Korea, recent events show all parties are moving towards peace in the Korean Peninsula. To achieve this, Trump must ensure his foreign policy towards North Korea encourages strong ties and alleviates Kim Jong-Un’s security concerns. Moon Jae-In started the peace process, and now it is up to the North, South and US to work towards a denuclearised Korean Peninsula, and end to the Korean War.
George is a journalist and Honours graduate in Japanese-Chinese politics, based in Adelaide.