The First Step to Peace in Korea Has Been Taken—Now the White House Must Follow
Beyond a peace treaty, Pyongyang has sought an end both to the unilateral economic sanctions the United States has imposed over the years and the multilateral sanctions that have mushroomed because of U.S. pressure on other countries and the United Nations. Is Washington ready to lift its own sanctions and induce the UN to terminate its sanctions regime? If so, would that change mean an end to all sanctions or only to those involving goods that unarguably have no military applications?
Other significant North Korean demands include an end to the annual joint military exercises between U.S. and South Korean forces. Are Washington and Seoul willing to end those maneuvers, and if so, under what conditions? What about Pyongyang’s recent demand that the United States remove all “nuclear and strategic assets” from South Korea—and who determines which assets fall into that category?
North Korea’s broader objective always has been for the United States to withdraw all of its military forces from South Korea and terminate the bilateral military alliance with Seoul. If Pyongyang persists in that demand, is the Trump administration willing to take such a step, even if a secure, comprehensive peace accord is reached?
The denuclearization issue is likely to remain the most crucial aspect—and the most difficult sticking point. Are U.S. leaders prepared to consider anything less than the DPRK’s full denuclearization? That step would require the supervised shipment of existing warheads out of the country, the demolition of all nuclear facilities, and intrusive inspections to ensure compliance, both now and in the future. What is the U.S. response if Pyongyang balks at agreeing to any of those measures?
Finally, if the Kim regime caves on the denuclearization issue, is Washington prepared to offer (perhaps jointly with China) a security guarantee to the DPRK? That is not a minor consideration. North Korean leaders have cited Washington’s double-cross of Libya’s Muammar el-Qaddafi after the Libyan leader relinquished his country’s embryonic nuclear program. How far is the White House willing to go to reassure the North Koreans that the United States is now out of the forcible regime-change business?
Developments at the Olympics and the Moon-Kim summit represent a step in the right direction, but only one step. It might be appropriate at this point to purchase a bottle of champagne to celebrate the prospect of peace on the Korean Peninsula, but it is far too early even to put that bottle on ice, much less to pop the cork. That last action must await not only the Trump-Kim summit, but successful negotiations flowing from that meeting to address and resolve the many thorny, substantive issues.
Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow in defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute and a contributing editor at the National Interest, is the author of ten books and more than 700 articles on international affairs. His books include (with Doug Bandow) The Korean Conundrum (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004).