A peace treaty is unlikely in the absence of a more conducive political environment. One way to accomplish that is a peace process, conducting a series of interim peace agreements as stepping stones to a treaty. Such agreements, with both the United States and South Korea as signatories, would constitute token recognition of D.P.R.K. sovereignty.
They could also be linked to steps toward denuclearization. Such linkage was envisioned by the six parties in the September 2005 Joint Statement which read, “The directly related parties will negotiate a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula at an appropriate separate forum.”
A first step could be what Seoul once called a “peace declaration.” Signed by the United States, North and South Korea and perhaps China, Japan and Russia as well, such an declaration could declare an end to enmity by reiterating the language of the October 12, 2000 U.S.-D.P.R.K. joint communiqué stating that “neither government would have hostile intent toward the other” and confirming “the commitment of both governments to make every effort in the future to build a new relationship free from past enmity.” It could also commit the three parties to commence a peace process culminating in the signing of a peace treaty. The declaration could be issued at a meeting of six-party foreign ministers.
A second step long sought by Pyongyang is the establishment of a “peace mechanism” to replace the Military Armistice Commission set up to monitor the ceasefire at the end of the Korean War. This peace mechanism could serve as a venue for resolving disputes like the 1994 North Korea downing of a U.S. reconnaissance helicopter that strayed across the DMZ or the 1996 incursion by a North Korean spy submarine that ran aground while dropping off agents. The peace mechanism would include the United States and the two Koreas—the three parties with forces on the ground in Korea. China, which would be a signatory to any peace treaty, might opt to participate as well.
The peace mechanism could also be the venue for negotiating a series of agreements on specific confidence-building measures. The joint fishing area in the West Sea is one. Naval confidence-building measures such as “rules of the road” and a navy-to-navy hotline are also worth pursuing.
Lacking satellite reconnaissance, North Korea has conducted surveillance by infiltrating agents into the South. An “open skies” agreement allowing reconnaissance flights across the DMZ by both sides might reduce that risk. In October 2000 Kim Jong-il offered to end exports, production, and deployment of medium- and longer-range missiles. In return he wanted the United States to launch North Korean satellites, along with other compensation. A more far-reaching arrangement might be to set up a joint North-South watch center that would download real-time data from U.S. or Japanese reconnaissance satellites.
North Korea, in return, would have to reciprocate step by step with permanent dismantlement of its nuclear and missile facilities.
When the subject of North Korea comes up in Washington these days, it sets off a wave of speculation by so-called experts about whether Pyongyang is willing to dismantle its nuclear and missile programs and give up its arms. Their time would be better spent thinking about what inducements Washington, Seoul and others might offer to obtain those results.
Foremost among those inducements is a peace process.
Many observers believe North Korea provokes incidents to justify tight control at home. This assessment ignores the pernicious strategic interaction between the two sides of the Korean dividing line. North Korea says it wants peace. Let’s test it to see if it means what it says.