The Peace Treaty Offer and Response

March 14, 2016

The DPRK Foreign Ministry’s Institute for American Studies has recently released an essay calling for the replacement of the Armistice Agreement with a peace agreement between North Korea and the United States. The North Korean call for a peace treaty is not new, and was re-emphasized last fall. However, this essay provides some additional detail on the North Korean stance on proposed peace talks.

Jong Nam Hyok, the essay’s author, indicates that proposed peace talks would be mostly bilateral between the U.S. and DPRK, arguing that the United Nations Command (which signed the 1953 Armistice Agreement) was a veil for the United States, and did not represent the United Nations, the 15 “satellite countries” that also fought under the UNC banner, or the “south Korean puppet army.” On South Korean involvement in peace talks, the author writes that while South Korea is not “totally irrelevant” to peace talks, it would be “meaningless” to hold inter-Korean peace negotiations while U.S. forces remain in South Korea. Similarly, while the essay acknowledges China’s position (via the People’s Volunteer Army) as a signatory to the Armistice Agreement, it argues that “the U.S. should be the first to come out to sign a peace agreement,” with China playing a minimal role.

The essay warns that “at present, the central boundary line of the ground military demarcation line drawn by the Armistice Agreement is barely retained,” and that only a peace agreement can prevent any “accidental incident” from leading to a “full-scale nuclear war.” It specifies: “The danger of a war can be completely averted only when the US withdraws its troops stationed in south Korea, quits reinforcing its armaments, and suspends hostile military acts such as joint military drills as a result of the conclusion of a peace agreement.”   

Responding to the U.S. position that denuclearization must precede a peace treaty, the essay states that “the argument that the DPRK’s scrapping of nuclear weapons would pave the way for concluding a peace agreement is a sophism.” The author does not discuss the possibility of parallel negotiations on denuclearization and a peace treaty, or indicate whether North Korea would be willing to denuclearize in the wake of a peace agreement.

In discussing press reports of secret U.S.-DPRK dialogue about peace negotiations last fall, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest expressed the U.S. position on the topic:

There was interest expressed by the North Koreans in discussing a peace treaty.  We considered their proposal, but also made clear that denuclearization had to be part of any discussion.  And the truth is the North Koreans rejected that response.  So as long as there is an insistence on the part of the North Koreans to a nuclear stockpile, it’s going to be very difficult for us to resolve our differences. 

And the reason for that is not just because of the preferences of the United States, the reason for that is because of the view expressed by our allies -- both South Korea and Japan -- but also because of the comments of people like the leader of China.  President Xi made clear that the Chinese government would not tolerate a nuclearized Korean Peninsula; and that de-nuclearization is a goal shared not just by the United States and our allies, but by the players throughout the region.

But North Korea’s insistence on preserving their nuclear stockpile and attempting to develop it further is what has led to their extreme isolation.  And their continued provocative actions including additional nuclear tests or additional launches to test missile technology will only lead to further steps that isolate them further.  And that will include unilateral steps by the United States. You saw that the United States Congress has passed legislation to impose additional sanctions against North Korea.  And there are ongoing discussions at the U.N. among the United States and China and other players in the region about imposing additional costs on the North Koreans for their continued provocative acts.