An end to the end of the war

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An end to the end of the war

Nam Jeong-ho
The author is a columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

At a press conference between Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and U.S. President George W. Bush after the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Sydney in September 2007, a rare moment took place. After Bush read his statement, Roh requested twice that Bush address the issues more clearly as he must have missed mentioning the Korean Peninsula peace regime and the declaration of the end of the Korean War.

“I can’t make it any more clear, Mr. President,” Bush said and left the press conference upset. It was an uncommonly tense moment for presidential diplomacy, where well-wishing remarks and refined expressions are the norm.

A declaration to end the war was discussed at the inter-Korean summit between Roh and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il one month later. In a Oct. 4, 2007 joint declaration, the two leaders agreed that they would cooperate to declare the end of the Korean War among the leaders of the concerned three or four parties. As Roh’s chief of staff at the time, Moon witnessed the process in Pyongyang.

At the recent UN General Assembly, Moon made yet another argument that progress in denuclearization and complete peace can be accomplished by announcing the end of the war. It was his second stab at the idea, following a similar one made last year. Both Roh and Moon have made their best efforts to promote the idea.

Declaring an end to the war is a political action without any legal binding force. Why is Moon so obsessed with it? Considering his previous statements, Moon seems to believe the declaration would be a kind of magic wand that would bring about a peace negotiation. It is a strategy to guarantee security to North Korea with the declaration so that it will participate in the peace negotiation.

But the strategy is based on a leap of logic.

First, it is impossible to declare an end to the Korean War under the current circumstances. Pyongyang wants the lifting of U.S. sanctions, while Washington wants meaningful denuclearization.

On Sept. 24, Kim Yo-jong — the younger sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and director of the propaganda department of the Workers’ Party — said, “The declaration of the termination of the war is an interesting and an admirable idea.” She added, “For the termination of the war to be declared, respect for each other should be maintained and prejudiced viewpoint, inveterate hostile policy, and unequal double standards should be removed first.”

On Sept. 25, Kim issued another statement and warned South Korea not to try and upset the balance of power on the Korean Peninsula. She was demanding that sanctions on North Korea be lifted and the demand for denuclearization be abandoned for an end-of-war declaration.

The reaction by a spokesperson for the Pentagon was the opposite. “We are open to discussing the possibility of an end-of-war declaration,” said John Kirby, Defense Department spokesman, in a press briefing. But he stressed that the goal of the United States is complete denuclearization of North Korea, giving more weight to denuclearization than to the declaration. As long as they remain parallel on the issues, the declaration can hardly be made.

Let’s say that the end of the war is declared after various concessions. Will there be a guarantee that North Korea will respond to talks sincerely and take tangible measures to denuclearize? There is a high risk that Pyongyang will do nothing after taking rewards such as the resumption of activities at the Kaesong Industrial Complex.

We wonder if it is the right time to talk about the end of the war. North Korea recently fired a cruise missile with a 1,500-kilometer (932-mile) range and a ballistic missile from a train. Experts said the North has advanced its technology to miniaturize warheads and develop tactical nuclear weapons. If North Korea loads a tactical nuclear warhead on a newly developed mid-range missile, it will have more diversified nuclear capabilities. Is it appropriate to talk about the end of the war in this situation?

Last, even if the Moon administration rushes an end-of-war declaration, there’s nothing it can gain. South Korea will only suffer losses. After the Korean War Armistice Agreement was signed in 1953, there was no massive military clash on the peninsula. The war practically ended. But if we officially declare an end of the war, there will be no justification for the UN Command in the South, a key pillar of our security. The UN Command, launched after the UN Security Council resolution in 1950, has the goal of countering the North’s aggression and maintaining peace on the peninsula.

If an end to the war is declared under such circumstances, there will be no reason for the command to be here. If it is dismantled, the U.S. Forces Korea will have difficulty operating the rear bases of the UN Command in Japan in times of crisis.

Amid growing threats from North Korea, we must not declare an end to the Korean War without taking measures to keep the recalcitrant regime in check. A message will lose its power if it is repeated inappropriately. The Moon administration must stop talking about the end of the war.
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