Summit of the Two Koreas: Prospects for Denuclearization and Peace By Jun Kwon and Sung Jang
T.S. Elliot seems wrong, at least on the Korean peninsula. Rather than being the cruellest month, April has brought a warm spring to the inter-Korean relationship.
The Inter-Korean summit was held last Friday. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un stepped across the demilitarized zone into South Korean territory after shaking hands with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
The summit itself was historic and replete with symbolism, but more importantly, it was a meaningful development toward easing tensions, ending confrontations, and ushering in the new era of peace on the Korean peninsula.
Several considerations are particularly important in regards to the substantive results of the summit.
This was the third inter-Korean summit. Unlike two previous summits (2000 and 2007), this summit demonstrated notable evidence the current North Korean regime under Kim Jong Un is more open and shows a greater level of sincerity towards peace and denuclearization.
Both leaders have pledged to work towards a formal agreement to officially end the Korean War and turn the Armistice into a peace treaty. They also acknowledged that any peace treaty would have to involve the U.S. and China, since Washington and Beijing are signatories of the 1953 Armistice agreement.
There are reports a peace treaty is welcomed by all relevant parties and there will be series of bilateral and multilateral meetings scheduled in the coming weeks. The official end of the Korean War and the peace treaty could be materialized as early as July 27th to mark 65th anniversary of the Truce agreement.
The agreement has specifically stated that both leaders of two Koreas are committed to the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. This is a clear development compared to the 2007 inter-Korean summit Agreement where “The South and the North will jointly endeavour . . . to resolve the nuclear problem on the Korean peninsula.”
Kim Jong Un has now agreed for the first time that “South and North Korea confirmed the common goal of realizing, through complete denuclearization, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.” This underscores his perceived sincerity toward giving up nuclear weapons.
North Korea’s repeated mention of “denuclearization” has been doubted by some observers who are skeptical and cautious because the agreement lacks the specifics or concrete roadmaps of denuclearization. This is most likely due to Kim Jong Un choosing to reserve his wishes and concerns regard the nuclear deal for the U.S.-North Korean Summit to be directed to President Trump.
It is encouraging that North Korea has already started to display its sincere commitment to denuclearization by “promising to close down the country's main nuclear test site at Punggye-ri in May before the eyes of security experts and journalists from South Korea and the United States.”
It seems the inter-Korean summit and subsequent behaviour of North Korea reflects that Kim Jong Un is ready to join the international community as a normal state.
At the same time, denuclearization is still a difficult process. The approaches of North Korea and the United States are in conflict with one another.
North Korea has been consistent about its desire to denuclearize via a step-by-step process where each action of dismantlement on the North Korean side is followed by an action of concession on the American side.
In contrast, the U.S. has advocated for the Complete, Verifiable and Irreversible Denuclearization (CVID). The U.S. demands that North Korea completely give up all the nuclear weapons and programs. Their dismantlement must be verified by a team of the international inspectors before any rewards should be granted to North Korea.
The South Korean Presidential office shared that Kim Jong Un said at the summit that "Why would we keep nuclear weapons and live in difficult conditions if we often meet with Americans to build trust and they promise us to end the war and not to invade us?"
If Kim Jong Un believes North Korea’s security is guaranteed on the path of denuclearization, he is more likely to commit to denuclearization. The biggest challenge for Mr. Trump is how to eliminate Kim’s concerns of the U.S. invasion and how to guarantee regime survival.
The two Koreas have put on a spectacular display of brotherhood and warmth. President Trump how becomes the central in the process. Mr. Trump will have to proceed prudently and cautiously in meeting with Kim Jong Un for denuclearization of North Korea. Otherwise disappointment from all sides are sure to ensue.
Three things will be needed for the permanent peace on the Korean peninsula: 1) President Trump’s broad-minded political will to have a sincere negotiation with Kim Jong Un over the denuclearization, 2) Kim Jong Un’s trustworthy implementation of the agreement with the U.S., and 3) balanced coordination of South Korean President Moon between them.
Jun Kwon is Assistant Professor of Government at Utica College. Sung Jang is a government student at Utica College.