Korean peace treaty advocates are chasing an absurd, destructive dream
- Demands for negotiations on a treaty are part of a bill in the US Congress that ignores North Korean human rights violations and its nuclear missile programme
- Those pushing for a treaty assume all sides must agree first to ending the Korean war, which North Korea shows no interest in doing
The end of the US adventure in Afghanistan leads right away to consideration of the much longer US involvement in Korea.
The basis for the claim that the Korean war remains unfinished is that the armistice signed by generals from the US, China and North Korea – but not South Korea – never morphed into a formal peace treaty as originally intended.
Demands for negotiations on a treaty are enshrined in a bill that progressive members of the US Congress have introduced. It would require the US secretary of state to report within six months on efforts for talks with the North.
The bill’s sponsors make no mention of the case of Warmbier, who was jailed for 15 months for pilfering a sign from his Pyongyang hotel the night before he was to go home after a brief visit.
That is absurd, of course. North Korea would demand as conditions for any treaty that the US and United Nations withdraw sanctions against it and that the US closes bases in the South, including Camp Humphreys south of Seoul, where most of the 28,500 US troops are concentrated.
The US and South Korea would also have to abrogate the alliance that has endured since US forces under the aegis of a hastily established UN Command, including relatively small forces from several other countries, rescued the South from North Korean invasion in June 1950.
The whole idea is anathema to Grant Newsham, a retired US Marine officer and frequent commentator on Korean issues. He fears members of Congress are being blindsided with no real understanding of how a treaty would play into North Korea’s policy goals.
“The measures included in this bill are best viewed as steps in a broader, ongoing effort [to get the Americans out],” he says, after which war between North and South Korea “will be inevitable”. He believes “a range of actors would like to see that happen” – a reference to advocates of a peace treaty in the US as well as South Korea.
In the aftermath of the American departure from Afghanistan, the campaign for a peace treaty is gathering strength under the slogan, “Korea Peace Now”. Activists have been remarkably successful in courting members of Congress, whipping up support for a movement that is sure to intensify as the Peace on the Korean Peninsula Act goes through hearings before a vote in Congress.
Proponents of the bill argue Koreans have to settle their own problems, free of US interference, just as the Afghans must do under Taliban rule. That is a frightening thought for millions of Koreans fearful of purges, as are the Afghans.
Donald Kirk is the author of three books and numerous articles on Korea