Koreas face tough task to build peace regime

Koreas face tough task to build peace regime
After decades of official silence, South Korea is beginning to compensate hundreds of landmine victims maimed by a deadly, and dangerously enduring legacy of the Korean War and its Cold War aftermath.
PHOTO: AFP

Sixty-five years after the end of the Korean War, the two Koreas face the daunting task that the armed conflict has left behind -replacing the current "armistice regime" with a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.

In the 1990s and 2000s, Seoul and Pyongyang moved to lay the groundwork for the peace system, but their efforts failed due to the communist state's nuclear ambitions, and the two sides' political distrust and ideological division.

Experts say that the two Koreas should start sincere dialogue to remove misunderstandings about each other's intentions for peace, ease military tensions, build mutual trust and ultimately work together toward a peace system on the peninsula.

"Confidence building efforts are of paramount importance at this point in time should the two sides hope to replace the armistice regime - an unstable state of peace - with a permanent peace here," said Chang Yong-seok, a senior analyst at Seoul National University's Institute for Peace and Unification Studies

"They should first ensure transparency in their military activities, constantly seek dialogue at various levels to prevent misunderstandings about their intentions and think seriously about how to better coexist."

The armistice agreement, which was meant to be only provisional, has become entrenched as a unique regime to maintain stability here.

The armistice, with its enforcement organisations such as the Military Armistice Commission, and mutual rules and principles to prevent hostilities, has served as a key mechanism to help deter border crises, defuse military tension and prevent the recurrence of another armed conflict.

But some argue the armistice is already in tatters, as Pyongyang has violated it numerous times through provocations such as infiltrating into the South and launching limited attacks on South Korean forces.

"Before talking about the peace regime, we should think about whether the armistice agreement has been well managed. It has been in tatters with the North setting off provocations frequently that sort of rubbed salt into the wounds of our people," said Kim Yeoul-soo, security expert at Sungshin Women's University.

"However, South Korea should also make efforts and has a role to play. Within the comprehensive principle of engaging the North, the South should mix tactical approaches that are flexible enough to persuade the North to move in a direction of peninsular peace."

Above all, the most important task to entrench peace is to denuclearise North Korea. The task appears to be increasingly challenging as Pyongyang has defined itself as a nuclear power state in its constitution and adopted a "Byungjin" policy line of simultaneously developing nuclear arms and its economy.

The multilateral denuclearisation talks involving the two Koreas, the US, China, Japan and Russia have been dormant since late 2008. Amid the absence of dialogue, the North has been advancing its nuclear capabilities to the extent that it has already reached a technical level to "miniaturise and diversify nuclear bombs."

Park Myung-lim, a peace expert at Yonsei University, said that the current security status is comprised of two regimes - the armistice regime and nuclear regime - and that they should be replaced by a peace regime through the denuclearisation of the North and the establishment of its diplomatic ties with the US and Japan.

"A peace regime can be established with the North giving up its nuclear programme and with both Washington and Tokyo recognising Pyongyang and normalising their relations with it. This would lead to a de facto peace regime," he said.

On the part of Seoul, it should exert more diplomatic efforts to activate the six-party talks, he argued.

"The US, China, Japan and Russia may seek to focus largely on nonproliferation when it comes to North Korea's nuclear issue. But for South Korea, the focus is on complete denuclearisation as it directly affects its own security," he said.

"Thus, Seoul should take small steps first, such as restoring the six-party dialogue channel and improving inter-Korean relations. And then, based on mutual trust, it should ease Pyongyang's concerns about the reunification by absorption in the South and work up its leadership to bring the North out to the international community."

UN Commander Mark W. Clark, North Korea's Supreme Commander Kim Il-sung and Peng Dehuai, the commander of the Chinese People's Volunteers, inked the armistice on July 27, 1953 after two years of grueling negotiations over the military demarcation line, prisoners of war and other truce-related issues.

The armistice was a "temporary" cessation of hostilities. The three parties recommended a higher-level political meeting be held three months later to resolve Korea-related issues including the withdrawal of foreign troops from the peninsula.

The political gathering took place from April through June in 1954 in Geneva, Switzerland, with the participation of foreign ministers from 19 countries. But it failed to permanently end the war amid disputes over the UNC role, its activities and other issues.

On various occasions, Pyongyang has called for a peace treaty to replace the armistice. But Seoul and Washington suspect Pyongyang intends to pressure the US to withdraw its forces from the peninsula, remove its promise of nuclear protection for the South and stop the allied military drills targeting the North.

 

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