(EDITORIAL from Korea JoongAng Daily on July 12)
A dicey declaration
President Moon Jae-in has suddenly dealt a new card to help revitalize the stagnant denuclearization talks between the United States and North Korea. In an interview with a Singaporean media outlet shortly before embarking on his first visit to the city-state, the president said a declaration to end the 1950-53 Korean War will serve as “a milestone toward the denuclearization of North Korea and establishment of a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.” The president also said Seoul will consult with Washington to achieve the goal of coming up with a declaration to end the war among concerned parties within this year.
Moon’s remarks are based on the belief that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo returned empty-handed from his third trip to North Korea due to Pyongyang’s persistent demand for the declaration of an end to the war. South Korea can help break the current deadlock over denuclearization by drawing up an official declaration to end the war as agreed to in Moon’s April 27 summit with Kim in Panmunjom, the president believes. We understand why he’s trying to find a breakthrough by accepting the North’s demand.
However, a rush to such a declaration poses risks. Above all, if related parties hastily push it without any tangible steps by Pyongyang to dismantle its nuclear weapons and missiles, North Korea can take advantage of it. For instance, it will certainly call for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from South Korea on the grounds that there are no more war threats from North Korea.
A declaration to end the war also can pave the way to aid packages for the impoverished country, which will help consolidate Kim’s grip on power. At the same time, South Korea’s economic support for the recalcitrant state can backfire at any time if things go badly. That’s not all. Moon’s push for a declaration can cause serious schisms in the decades-old alliance given Uncle Sam’s reluctance.
In fact, a declaration to end the war can be used as a card for future negotiations on not only denuclearization but also on improving relations with North Korea. Therefore, blindly accommodating the North’s demand without drawing any substantial concessions is not desirable at all. Even Prof. Moon Chung-in, President Moon’s special adviser on security, unification and diplomacy and one of the most ardent advocates for appeasement of the North, appeared on television and opposed the idea of hastily pushing for such a declaration. “If the government wants to make the declaration on July 27 — the 65th anniversary of the cease-fire — North Korea must take concrete actions to demonstrate its sincerity toward denuclearization,” he stressed.
The government must not hurriedly push for a declaration of the end of the Korean War. Only prudent steps — not a rush — will lead to peace on the peninsula.