[Viewpoint]Take a long, slow march

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[Viewpoint]Take a long, slow march

A declaration to end the Korean War and a peace regime on the peninsula are hot topics now in Korea. People have different opinions about whether they are needed, how we should attain them (if at all) and whether the government has created a consensus among citizens, who will have to deal with the ultimate outcome. The road to a peace regime will have a tremendous impact on the fate of the nation, and the magnitude of its impact is not even comparable to one inter-Korean summit meeting.
From a classical perspective, a peace treaty should be made within a year or two. Although a truce agreement can be made among military commanders, a peace treaty must be signed by heads of states. The interested parties in a peace treaty are the participating nations in the war, but international organizations can play a part, and a truce agreement and a peace treaty can involve different parties. Details of a treaty may vary, but it has to include a message that the concerned parties will end hostilities and return to a peaceful state. They also cover the exchange of prisoners of war, compensation for damage and territorial issues.
So, what about the case of South and North Korea? There are a considerable number of unusual characteristics surrounding the signing of a treaty on the Korean Peninsula. Can the relationship between the South and the North be considered as that of two nations during the outbreak of the war? Have we been in a time of war or a state of semi-peace since the ceasefire? Do we want to return to the conditions at the time of liberation from Japanese occupation in 1945, the establishment of the South Korean government in 1948, or the beginning of the Korean War in 1950? Depending on how these issues are applied in terms of international law, we might not even need to declare the end of the war at all at this point. It is more complicated than the mechanical application of conventional ideas.
Second, the need for a peace treaty has been constantly raised during the 54 years of the ceasefire. North Korea first proposed a peace system in 1955, but the South Korean administrations have not so far agreed, because doing so could mean the withdrawal of U.S. forces and ultimately, the socialization of the South.
So Pyongyang has taken a different strategy. Since 1975, it has been seeking Washington’s agreement to a peace treaty between North Korea and the United States, sending letters to the United States Congress and bringing the issue to the United Nations General Assembly.
When Seoul began to show interest in a peace system following the North Korean nuclear crisis, Pyongyang insisted a separate peace treaty between the two Koreas was unnecessary, because of the existence of the 1992 South-North Korea Basic Agreement and sub-pact on nonaggression. Recently, more substantial discussions have taken place. Washington has expressed interest in signing a peace treaty after Pyongyang abandons its nuclear program. However, questions remain about how threats such as conventional weapons of mass destruction and biological and chemical weapons will be handled if the only precondition to a treaty is the disablement of the nuclear program.
Third, although the truce agreement was made among the military commanders of North Korea, the United States and China, a peace treaty should include the South, as well. The main interested parties can gather together in four-party talks, but we could use six-party talks or even consider having some 20 countries, including the 16 nations from the United Nations, participate.
Fourth, since the war ended with neither side claiming victory, difficulties are expected in the course of dealing with issues such as nationality, territory, kidnapping, separated families and property rights of displaced people, as well as actual responsibility for the war. In particular, different parties are likely to clash over the presence of U.S. forces in Korea.
Taking all these aspects into account, declaring the end of the war for the sake of a declaration might create serious problems. If the agreements made between Seoul and Pyongyang during the past several decades were carried out properly, peace in the Korean Peninsula would have already become a reality, not a declaration. Are we repeating the past all over? Even if it takes time, we should march toward a proper peace regime instead of hurriedly declaring to end the war. Only then can we prevent a tragedy like the Korean War from ever occurring again.

*The writer, a former ambassador, is a professor emeritus at Sejong University.

Kim Jung-won
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