|Ten Reasons Why the United States Should Sign a Peace Treaty with North Korea|
1. Technically and Legally Still at War:
The Korean Armistice of 1953, which called for a peace process and the withdrawal of all foreign forces from the Korean peninsula, may have temporarily stopped the hot war in Korea. Six decades later, however, no peace treaty or agreement has replaced the Armistice Agreement. War, not peace, is the volatile basis of our relations with North Korea.
2. Averting Catastrophe:
In 1994, as President Clinton was contemplating a first strike against North Korea over its nuclear program, the U.S. Department of Defense estimated that an outbreak of war on the Korean peninsula would result in 1.5 million casualties within the first 24 hours and 6 million casualties within the first week. This assessment predates North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons, which amplifies the risk of mass death. The only way to prevent the outbreak of a catastrophic confrontation, as a 2011 paper from the U.S. Army War College counsels, is to “reach agreement on ending the armistice from the Korean War”—in essence, a peace agreement—and “giv[e] a formal security guarantee to North Korea tied to nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction.”
A peace treaty or agreement will save the United States billions of dollars annually, which it now spends to maintain 28,500 troops* and an estimated 100 military installations in South Korea. Currently, North Korea and South Korea spend $3 billion and $26 billion, respectively, on their annual military budgets. Veterans For Peace estimates that the Korean War, to this date, has cost the United States roughly $3 trillion. Outsized military spending on all sides diverts critical resources that should be prioritized for domestic human needs.
The unresolved Korean War is the major source of tension in Korea. It is an excuse for massive military buildup by South and North Korea, as well as Japan and China. The threat of war gives North Korea justification to continue its Military First policy and to develop nuclear weapons for deterrence. South Korea also uses the threat of war to wield its National Security Law to silence political dissidents. Annually, the United States holds massive joint military exercises with South Korea that include simulated nuclear strikes against North Korea. We also impose heavy sanctions on North Korea that harm the people, not the leadership, of that country.
In the 1994 Agreed Framework, North Korea and the United States agreed to “move towards full normalization of the political and economic relations.” In the 2000 U.S.-DPRK Joint Communiqué, both parties agreed that "neither government would have hostile intent toward the other and confirmed the commitment of both governments to make every effort in the future to build a new relationship free from past enmity." In the 2005 Six-Party joint statement, the United States pledged it had "no intention to attack or invade the DPRK with nuclear or conventional weapons." Moreover, the 2007 Joint Statement after the fifth round of Six Party Talks outlined steps to normalize relations between the United States and North Korea.
6. Ineffective Diplomacy:
Without a formal diplomatic relationship, including the appointment of an ambassador and the establishment of an embassy in North Korea, the United States possesses no direct bilateral avenue to discuss critical issues such as denuclearization, refugees, food aid, and human rights with North Korea. We cannot rely upon China to serve as our diplomatic regional lever. “Strategic patience,” or a policy of non-engagement under the Obama administration, has precipitated the deterioration of fragile U.S.-DPRK relations.
The Bush administration pursued a hardline policy of regime change against North Korea by including it in the “axis of evil” and threatening a pre-emptive nuclear attack under the 2002 U.S. Nuclear Posture Review. This policy of confrontation backfired as North Korea developed and tested nuclear weapons and long-range missiles in response. The escalation of tensions in April 2013, with North Korea conducting a third nuclear test and the United States simulating the dropping of nuclear weapons during the U.S.-ROK war games, point to the urgency of peace.
With the Cold War over elsewhere around the globe, it is time for peace on the Korean peninsula. Denuclearization and arms reduction are central to any sustainable vision for peace. Any discussion of Korean denuclearization must proceed, however, from a global premise of permanent, meaningful peace, including a commitment from all sides to non-proliferation and a recognition of the current nuclear weapons imbalance around the world. The United States, the only country to have deployed nuclear weapons against a civilian population during a time of war, has an inventory of 7,700 nuclear weapons. The operational capacity of North Korea is unknown, although the Federation of American Scientists estimates North Korea to have less than 10.
The generation of survivors both on the Korean peninsula and in the diaspora is rapidly passing. Tragically, Korea is still divided, and families and communities still separated. Peace will enable the peoples of all participant nations to discuss the horrors of the Korean War from a human-centered perspective and to learn from the past. Peace will allow for the healing of old wounds and the rebuilding of social relations within and across countries. Both Koreas have Reunification Ministers and plans for federated or gradual reunification. A U.S.-DPRK peace treaty or agreement will play a crucial role in the alleviation of strained inter-Korean relations, and will help the Korean people achieve a peaceful reunification of their divided nation.
Peace will lead to normalized relations between the United States and North Korea. Normalized relations are central to building peace, friendship, and cooperation on the Korean peninsula and in Northeast Asia. Over 155 countries have peaceful normalized relations with North Korea, including nearly all countries that participated in the Korean War. Normalized relations will make it possible for separated Korean American families to reunite with their loved ones in North Korea.
* The 2012 edition of the U.S. Department of Defense Base Structures Report indicates that 37,354 U.S. troops were stationed in South Korea as of September 30, 2011. This figure vastly exceeds the 28,500 troop number agreed upon in 2008 by both U.S. and South Korean heads of state. United States Forces in Korea (USFK) and South Korea’s Ministry of Defense contend that the DoD figure is inaccurate.