March 16th, 2017
Why are discussions for a peace treaty with North Korea not an option to resolve the extraordinarily dangerous tensions on the Korean peninsula? At long last, experts with long experience negotiations with the North Koreans are publicly calling for negotiations.
Many in the Washington beltway think-tanks have finally acknowledged that the Obama policy of “strategic patience” did not result in a slowdown in the North Korean nuclear weapon and missile programs, but in fact provided room for the North Koreans to expand their research and testing of both nuclear weapon and missile technology.
They acknowledge that the U.S. government must deal with the reality that sanctions, as much as the U.S. government had hoped would have some effect on the North Korean government, have not slowed the programs and that negotiations are needed.
From William Perry, U.S. Secretary of Defense during the talks with the North Koreans that led to the Agreed Framework, to Dr. Siegfried S. Hecker, an expert on the North Korean nuclear program, and John Delury of Yonsei University, there seems to be a growing view that the only way to end the impasse on the Korean Peninsula is through talks, not more sanctions.
The National Committee on American Foreign Policy is attempting to hold informal talks with the North Korean government in March 2017. Since 2003, the committee has sponsored other talks in Germany and Malaysia. The committee requested the Trump Administration allow the talks to be held on U.S. soil, however, as with the Obama administration, the Trump Administration did not issue visas for a North Korean delegation to come to the U.S. due to the continuation of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and the imprisonment of two Americans in North Korea.
At long last, experts with long experience negotiations with the North Koreans are publicly calling for negotiations
WHY A PEACE TREATY IS SO IMPORTANT
Virtually unknown to the American public is the North Korea’s annual request for negotiations for a peace treaty to replace the armistice that was signed to halt the Korean War in 1953 sixty-four years ago.
In January 2016, as in many previous years, the North Korean government specifically stated that it would end its nuclear tests if the U.S. and South Korea end military exercises and sign a peace treaty. The U.S. responded that until North Korea ends its nuclear weapons program, the U.S. will not talk about a peace treaty. So there is a deadlock.
Yet, it is not rational to think that the North Korean government will stop its nuclear weapons and missile testing until they are guaranteed the United States will not attack them and has signed a peace treaty to that effect. The North Korean government feels their nuclear weapons program is what is keeping the U.S. from adding North Korea to its list of targeted attempts at violent regime change.
Having seen what has happened to Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen under the Bush and Obama administrations, the North Korean government will not give up what it perceives to be its major deterrent to an attack by the U.S. and South Korea: its small but growing nuclear weapons program.
The U.S. is doing nothing to signal that anything but regime change is its policy. The annual U.S.-South Korean military exercises practice military operational plans with the mission of the overthrow of the North Korean government, and the not so subtle title of the 2016 “Decapitation” exercises did not give the North Koreans any indication that U.S. policy is anything but regime change.
John Delury has suggested that to convince Kim to freeze the development of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and the missile programs, as a first step, the Trump administration must design a package of security guarantees such as scaling back or suspending U.S.-South Korean military exercises and delaying the deployment of new U.S. military equipment such as the THAAD missile to South Korea.
Convening four-power talks among China, North Korea, South Korea, and the United States to negotiate and sign a treaty formally ending the Korean War, as Pyongyang has long demanded, would provide the basis for halting further development of its nuclear and long-range ballistic missile programs and allowing International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors back into the country to verify compliance.
Of course, other issues would be raised, such as improving North Korean human rights, relaxing restrictions on travel abroad, allowing foreign humanitarian organizations more freedom in North Korea, and closing political prison camps.
The U.S. is doing nothing to signal that anything but regime change is its policy
And direct negotiation is the only way to determine what Kim may be ready to do. As President Trump said during the campaign, he would be willing to talk with Kim as long as there was “a ten percent or a 20 percent chance that [he could] talk him out of those damn nukes.”
NORTH KOREA IN THEORY AND IN PRACTICE
As Delury wrote: “wishful thinking about North Korea’s imminent collapse has compromised U.S. strategy for far too long. Obama’s strategic patience, envisioning a day when ‘the Korean people, at long last, will be whole and free,’ wasted the early years of Kim Jong Un’s reign in the mistaken belief that the regime would not survive long following Kim Jong Il’s death.”
Dr. Hecker agreed: “Talking is a necessary step to re-establishing critical links of communication to avoid a nuclear catastrophe.”
Former Defense Secretary Perry has added, “We should deal with North Korea as it is, not as we wish it to be.”
North Koreans are very smart and resilient. As well-documented by historians, their country was destroyed during the Korean War and they rebuilt the country, as much as they could, with minimal outside assistance.
Despite virtually no outside assistance for 35 years with the demise of the Soviet Union and ever increasing sanctions by the international community for the past ten, North Korea has been able to develop its nuclear program and its missile program and put satellites into space— all, of course, at the expense of funding the level of social and economic programs its citizens need.
If the international community really wants to resolve tensions on the Korean Peninsula and give the North Korean people a chance to rejoin the community of nations, a peace treaty that gives North Korea the assurances it needs for its survival is the first, not the last step.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ann Wright served 29 years in the U.S. Army/Army Reserves and retired as a Colonel. She was a U.S. diplomat for 16 years and served in U.S. Embassies in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia. She resigned in 2003 in opposition to President Bush’s war on Iraq and in her letter of resignation mentioned the lack of effort of the Bush administration in resolving issues with North Korea. She went to North Korea in May 2015 as a part of the 30 woman delegation of Women Cross the DMZ that held a two day peace conference with 250 North Korean women.