[Outlook]Peace prospects are still dimIdeas for ending the current armistice and constructing a so-called peace regime on the Korean Peninsula are multiplying. The talk is accelerating as the nuclear facilities in North Korea are likely to be shut down in accord with the February agreement.
North Korea suggested on July 13 that it would hold military talks with the United States regarding the establishment of a peace regime on the peninsula. Alexander Vershbow, the U.S. ambassador to South Korea, said on July 11 that the U.S. is ready to launch negotiations for such a peace regime within this year, assuming continued progress on denuclearization in the North. Moreover, the Korea Institute of Defense Analysis argues that Seoul should take the initiative leading on a declaration on ending the Korean War using the coming Liberation Day, Aug. 15, as a symbolic occasion. South Korea, the institute said, should not lag behind North Korea and the United States in discussions for peace on the peninsula.
The latest series of discussions and proposals on building a peace regime was triggered by U.S. President George W. Bush’s remark in Hanoi last November. He mentioned to President Roh Moo-hyun during the Korea-U.S. summit there that if North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons, then the U.S. could find a way to accommodate three-way talks involving Bush, Kim Jong-il and Roh that would have as a goal formally ending the Korean War.
Afterwards the U.S. announced its eagerness to see the issues regarding peace on the Korean Peninsula ― including the denuclearization of North Korea ― become reality by the end of Bush’s term in early 2009.
Peace on the Korean Peninsula would seem to be close given the many suggestions and ideas being advanced. But what about the reality? I would say the prospects remain very cold. Military tension on the Korean Peninsula, including the nuclear problem with North Korea, is still serious.
For the 54 years since the Korean War truce of July 27, 1953, various peace regimes have been discussed. However, the military confrontation between South and North has not changed in its essence.
We are well advised to remember this particular point. The bad blood has been running for a long time and the establishment of military trust between the two Koreas is crucial to the big picture.
South and North Korea signed an historic document, the Inter-Korean Basic Agreement, on Dec. 13, 1991. The agreement, which reflects the desire for peaceful unification, shows the shortcuts to a unified Korea, including the construction of a peace regime.
At the time the agreement was signed, experts on Korean affairs remarked that the two sides could achieve unification if matters proceeded in accordance with the agreement. Former President Kim Dae-jung emphasized that he wanted to revive the agreement right up until his visit to North Korea in June 2002 for the first Inter-Korean summit.
Nonetheless the Basic Agreement has become useless. North Korea has refused to implement it because Pyongyang thinks the agreement was signed under duress. North Korea, at the time of the agreement, was reeling from the collapse of the Soviet Union and the prospect of economic havoc.
But we must revive the agreement. The 12th article of the agreement says that the two Koreas should organize a joint military committee. That panel would discuss critical issues related to peace, such as the gradual reduction of military power in both countries, disabling attack capacity and the removal of weapons of mass destruction. The appendix to the agreement also specifies practical means of implementation and assessment.
There are other articles in the agreement that are important to building inter-Korean military cooperation, but under the current circumstances none of these articles have been implemented and one may as well be skeptical on the chances of declaring an end to the state of war.
The Roh and Bush administrations should move cautiously. Otherwise, they might create the unwelcome impression that they are exploiting the issues on the Korean Peninsula in order to influence the next presidential elections.
Consolidating real peace between the two Koreas will require the patience to take gradual steps. Fast-track declarations for public consumption and political gain only give the upper hand to North Korea. As the Bush administration has repeatedly said about nuclear issues, we must proceed toward peace by building a situation in which peace is inevitable and no other outcome is even conceivable.
That is the only way to advance the clock on real and enduring peace for all of Korea. And the answers are already in the Inter-Korean Basic Agreement.
*The writer is a deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Chul-hee