[OUTLOOK]Be cautious about optimismThe six-party talks that are now in recess are likely to be resumed sooner or later. Though the main agendum of the talks is the North Korean nuclear problem, the establishment of peace on the Korean Peninsula may be discussed again.
This issue was included in the fourth draft of a joint statement prepared by China in the last round of the talks, and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill, the U.S. chief negotiator at the six-party talks, said he had consulted with South Korea, North Korea and China about this problem.
For the past 50 years, the two Koreas have lived under the abnormal state of an armistice. There is no reason to disapprove of the idea that the armistice should be replaced by a normal state of peace. However, we should be cautious about groundless optimism that the settlement of a peace treaty would lead to the resolution of all problems. Rather, entering into a peace treaty could create lots of new problems. Therefore, the government should not pursue only the goal of agreeing to a peace treaty but should mull over how to establish systems for managing the peace and how to prepare for changes in the security environment after the establishment of peace.
Preconditions for the conclusion of a peace treaty are the establishment of trust, through easing tension between the two Koreas, and controlling armaments. It would be meaningless to enter a peace accord without meeting these conditions. In this regard, North Korea clearing up suspicions over its nuclear program is the first and foremost condition for establishing a peace treaty.
In response to this argument from South Korea and the United States, North Korea has contended that the dissolution of the UN Command and the withdrawal of U.S. forces stationed in South Korea are the preconditions for peace on the Korean Peninsula and it will continue to do so.
These parallel stances may end up finding a contact point where North Korea allays suspicion over its nuclear aspirations and the United States assures the security of the North Korean regime. If so, what would become of the status of the UN Command and the U.S. military forces in South Korea under the situation of giving assurance to North Korea of its regime’s security?
Agreeing to a peace treaty does not mean that peace will immediately follow on the Korean Peninsula. The Demilitarized Zone that divides South and North Korea would remain until the realization of unification, only changing its name to the Peace Zone. An organization that would manage not only the Peace Zone but also implement a peace treaty between North and South Korea might be necessary. What is most desirable is for both Koreas to manage such activities in direct cooperation with each other. If this does not work, however, various options for international management may appear.
In this case, the UN Military Observer Group or UN peacekeeping forces may come to replace the current UN Command. But the United States has maintained the UN Command, albeit in name only, not simply for security on the Korean Peninsula but for the regional security of Northeast Asian at the strategic level. Consi-dering this, it is not so simple to directly connect the peace treaty to the dissolution of the UN Command. The problem of the U.S. forces stationed in South Korea is more complicated.
North Korea’s official position is to demand the withdrawal of the U.S. forces from South Korea. In an unofficial meeting, however, North Korea acknowledged that the presence of the U.S. forces in South Korea had the effect of preventing South Korea from attempting to achieve unification by absorbing North Korea. North Korea also hinted that it might condone the U.S. forces’ continued presence if their status were changed to a neutral one, such as a peacekeeping force in Northeast Asia.
The United States has recently tried to utilize U.S. forces stationed in South Korea as prompt mobilization forces for regional stability and their anti-terrorist war rather than as a deterrent against North Korea under the concept of strategic flexibility. Regardless of a peace treaty on the Korean Peninsula, the United States is likely to wish to maintain its military forces with such characteristics.
If North Korea allays suspicion over its nuclear development and enters a peace treaty, the country may get away, to some degree, from being the target of the U.S. forces in South Korea. It is doubtful, however, whether that would match with the character of Northeast Asia peacekeeping forces that North Korea wants.
The official position of the South Korean government is that the U.S. forces in South Korea will be necessary even after unification. However, since the United States announced its concept of strategic flexibility, South Korea has worried about the possibility of being involved in an unwanted dispute, for the first time since the armistice, and has expressed objections to such a possibility. This concern is unlikely to be relieved even after a peace treaty is signed. Further-more, in a situation where China regards the change in the character of U.S. forces in South Korea as a threat to them, the position of South Korea, where U.S. forces are stationed, cannot help but become more difficult.
These complicated problems would not be solved immediately even if a peace treaty is signed. To the contrary, the peace treaty might expose these problems more clearly and cause instability for a considerable period until the readjustment is over. In this respect, the peace treaty is not the end but the beginning of South Korea’s problems.
* The writer is a professor of political science at Sungkyunkwan University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Il-young