Korean Endgame: A Strategy for Reunification and U.S. Disengagement

By Selig S. Harrison | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 13
Ending the Korean War

IS NORTH KOREA serious about arms control?

Would Pyongyang agree to tension-reduction measures and the termination of its nuclear and long-range missile programs in conjunction with a phased U.S. withdrawal?

The only way to find out is to bring the Korean War to a formal end, normalize relations with Pyongyang, and replace the anachronistic 1953 armistice machinery with a new peace structure. The Military Armistice Commission set up in 1953 was a temporary expedient to oversee the cease-fire. But it still lingers on. Similarly, the United Nations Command, which provided a genuinely multilateral umbrella for U.S. intervention in the conflict, is now only a fig leaf for what is a unilateral U.S. security commitment to South Korea. Pyongyang points to the commission and the U.N. Command as symbols of an adversarial relationship that should properly have ended (but did not) when the North agreed to freeze its nuclear program in 1994. “We are in a halfway house, neither peace nor war,” observed Gen. Ri Chan Bok, North Korean representative at the DMZ. “How can we let our guard down and talk of arms control in such an uncertain situation?” 1

For North Korea, as this chapter will show, the replacement of the Military Armistice Commission and the U.N. Command with a new peace structure is a precondition for arms-control and confidence-building measures. During most of the cold war, Pyongyang also insisted on the complete withdrawal of U.S. forces as a prerequisite for steps to reduce tensions. As the cold war drew to an end, however, the North accepted the principle that a U.S. withdrawal could be linked to tension reduction. The 1988 arms-control proposal discussed earlier stipulated that each step in a phased U.S. withdrawal would be contingent on parallel North-South force reductions. More recently, while continuing to call for an eventual withdrawal, Pyongyang has further softened its position. American forces could stay for an indefinite transition period, the North now says, if the United States would broaden its mission in Korea from one limited to the defense of the South to a new role designed to deter aggression by either side against the other. During this transition period, the U.S.–South Korean Security Treaty could remain in force.

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