Is is it a new day on the Korean peninsula? Some, including President Trump, called last Friday’s historic meeting of the Korean leaders the beginning of the end of North Korea’s nuclear aggression.
KOREAN WAR TO END! The United States, and all of its GREAT people, should be very proud of what is now taking place in Korea!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 27, 2018
The meeting between North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and South Korea’s Moon Jae-in holds symbolic meaning, and the two leaders promised to end the Korean War by the end of this year. However, the meeting did not lead to a substantive agreement on denuclearization and all the involved countries have yet to sign a treaty ending the Korean War. For now, the pressure to iron out the details falls on the summit between Trump and Kim that the U.S. president said would occur in “three or four weeks.”
But I thought the Korean War already ended.
Technically, it never did. North and South Korea signed an armistice in 1953. They allowed Prisoners of War to move back to their home countries, and they drew a new boundary with a demilitarized zone (DMZ) in between the states. However, a formal peace treaty was never signed and relations between the two nations have been tense ever since.
Why is some meeting so important?
In over 60 years, the leaders of both Koreas have only met twice – until now. Neither of the previous encounters, in 2000 and 2007, had as much symbolic weight as last week’s meeting. The meeting was carefully planned to demonstrate a desire to move forward and reunify. They signed the Panmunjom Declaration, which stated that the two sides would cease all hostilities, such as North Korea’s testing of nuclear weapons capable of targeting South Korea. Kim and Moon crossed into the DMZ and posed for pictures with the press. The two leaders planted a tree, took photos with their delegations and talked privately for 30 minutes. They even shared a meal featuring cuisine from both countries in order to demonstrate unity. In the spirit of reunification, North Korea agreed to sync time with South Korea after Kim moved North Korean time back 30 minutes in 2015. Analysts believe symbolic gestures matter in diplomacy, especially between two nations with as contentious of a history as the Koreas.
Is this the end of North Korea posing a nuclear threat?
Not yet. The meeting was more stylish than substantive. The two leaders did little to lay out any groundwork for achieving their goals. They did not lay out a plan or any specifics for denuclearization, and their promise to end the Korean War is not enough to officially end it. Ending the Korean War would require the U.S. and China – who backed South and North Korea respectively – to also sign on to the treaty and China may not wish to end the war. While Kim later offered to cease nuclear testing and eventually eliminate his nuclear capacity, that offer could be one part in a strategy to gain economic and security benefits for a nation that has been isolated from much of the international community. Denuclearization could mean different things for the U.S. and North Korea, since Kim could want to keep some of his weapons as a protective measure. This puts the pressure on Trump’s meeting with Kim to nail out the finer details of denuclearization. While Republican lawmakers nominated for Trump for a Nobel Prize for putting pressure on North Korea to talk to South Korea, there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure ongoing peace in the region.