The leaders of South and North Korea have agreed to actively pursue talks within this year to declare an official end to the Korean War and negotiate a peace treaty to replace a truce.
If realized, the agreement will establish peace regime on the Korean Peninsula, 65 years after hostilities ceased.
All inter-Korean issues stem from military confrontation. Unless this is resolved, peace regime are impossible.
But the peace treaty, which North Korea has demanded in return for dismantling its nuclear program, is never straightforward because it must come only after its nuclear program is scrapped.
If the end of war is declared as the North‘s substantive military threat left as it is, South Korea’s ability to conduct war will be very apt to weaken. Declaration of the end of war will dissolve the United Nations Command created in 1950 to support South Korea during and after the Korean War and can threaten the existence of the US-Korea Combined Forces Command. If the UN Command is disbanded, US bases in Japan will lose the justification for existing as its rear bases any more.
If the South Korean government takes over the wartime control from the Combined Forces Command, the command will be broken up automatically. If the Combined Forces Command as well as the UN Command are dissolved, the capability of Korea and the US to wage a war jointly cannot but be weakened.
Another agreement to devise a practical scheme to turn the areas around the Northern Limit Line in the West Sea into a maritime peace zone is a rehash of an agreement struck at the 2007 inter-Korean summit. Then the agreement faced strong criticisms that the government tried to give up the sea border. The NLL was drawn by the UN Command after the truce, but the North does not acknowledge the line and has drawn its own maritime border below the NLL. Its naval ships often crossed the NLL, causing armed clashes.
Then defense ministers discussed working matters to designate the sea between two islands below the NLL as a buffer zone, but failed to reach an agreement because of difficulty in securing safety in the zone.
The government must not approach this matter hastily. The safety of five islands below the NLL must never be threatened. Many soldiers sacrificed their lives to protect the NLL.
Transforming the Demilitarized Zone into a peace zone as agreed in the summit Friday looks feasible.
Both sides can discuss pulling out heavy weapons, withdrawing or scaling down guard posts, pulling back barrier fence and remove mines. They can also consider setting up a hot line between top military commanders to avoid an accidental clash.
However, pulling back the barrier fence does not look simple for North Korea, which built it within the DMZ. To turn the DMZ into a peace zone, the North should withdraw all its troops and its barrier fence from the zone to the northern limit line 2 kilometers from the military demarcation line. It is questionable if the North can burden the costs of reconstructing its barrier fence. The South built its barrier fence along its southern limit line away from the demarcation line by the same distance.
The agreement to completely cease all the hostile acts in every domain, including land, air and sea, that are the sources of military tension and conflict is also controversial.
The North has cited the Korea-US joint exercise as a prominent example of hostile acts, while the US says that a country is not its ally if they cannot conduct a joint exercise.
It is a good thing that both sides have agreed to a set of measures to ease military tension, but the agreements must not lead to discussion of the withdrawal of the US forces from Korea.
South and North Korea also agreed to carry out disarmament in a phased manner. Disarmament is necessary for a peace regime, but it will be difficult to do it so fairly as to maintain military balance when the North has 1.28 million troops, over twice as many as the South’s 610,000.
Military agreements on the declaration of the end of war, a peace treaty, disarmament and others must be dealt with based on complete denuclearization.