On October 2, 2015, speaking during the course of a general policy discussion at the 70th session of the General Assembly of the United Nations, Lee Su Yong, North Korean Foreign Minister, stated that “the government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is willing to engage in constructive dialogue for the prevention of wars and conflicts in the Korean peninsula as soon as the United States agrees to replace the Korean Armistice Agreement with a full-fledged peace treaty and stops pointing fingers at “someone’s” “provocations” in the mass media.” “This is the best option available to us and the best solution that we can propose at this UN forum,” he added.
This issue was raised again on October 7 when an official representative of the North Korean Foreign Ministry stated that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (via official channels) had again proposed the signing of a peace treaty to the US and expected it to be conscientiously considered and endorsed by the American party.
It was noted that more than 60 years had passed since the signing of the cessation of hostilities agreement, but peace has still not been achieved in the Korean peninsula. The US and the Republic of Korea continuously conduct military exercises of various scales contributing to the escalation of the risk of casual incidents and unpredictable events.
In the author’s opinion, this problem is indeed serious, and this issue was actually discussed a few years ago: absence of a hotline between the North and South, bilateral demonization, insufficient competence combined with the peculiarities of bureaucracy can easily lead to an aggravation of the situation resulting from a misunderstanding or the desire to blame one’s opponent for one’s own problems, as happened just recently.
In the North Korea’s opinion, the only radical measure that can prevent future incidents would be the termination of the Korean Armistice Agreement and the signing of a peace treaty as well as the creation of a robust system of peace guarantees in the Korean peninsula: if the American party will be brave enough to change its policy, the security situation in the Korean peninsula would significantly improve.
The dialog proposed by North Koreans would address two important aspects. Number one—the necessity to formalize the results of the Korean War. Number two—diplomatic relations between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the US, which have never been established.
The 1953 Korean Armistice Agreement is perceived as an agreement signed by all the parties to the conflict. But in reality, the situation was much more complicated. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the (Chinese) People’s Volunteer Army signed it as representatives of the North because officially the People’s Republic of China did not participate in this war. The US was also fighting there as a representative of the UN and the Agreement is, in fact, signed by the UN Force Commanders. As for South Korea, the regime of Syngman Rhee, which at that time was far more villainous in comparison with that in the North, had intentions to fight till final victory, hindering the negotiations and refusing to sign the final document. Thus, although North Korea recently pulled out of the Korean Armistice Agreement, the South never even signed it.
Besides, technically speaking, this Agreement ceased to be effective back in 1957-58. There was a clause prohibiting the deployment of new types of armaments in the peninsula in the Agreement. So, when the US deployed nuclear weapons in the peninsula, the agreement formally ceased to be effective since all its clauses had equal legal force.
In addition, since both Koreas are members of the UN, this circumstance further complicates the situation because it is not quite clear how the peace treaty based on the results of the Korean War should be articulated and what countries must participate in it. Pyongyang traditionally regards the US as a full-fledged war participant and believes that the signing of a peace treaty would promote closer diplomatic relations between the two countries.
The matter is that an absence of diplomatic relations between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the US is more of an exception than a rule. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is by no means in complete international isolation. As of June 2012, North Korea had established diplomatic relations with 165 states that are currently standing members of the UN. Only about 20 countries, including the USA, Japan and Ukraine do not have diplomatic relations with it. Actually, at the beginning of 1990s, the United States and Japan were supposed to recognize the North pursuant to the “cross-recogniti
Diplomatic recognition of the two countries was set out as one of the clauses of the 1994 agreement–the Agreed Framework. This was one of the terms under which the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea later froze its nuclear program. However, due to a number of reasons the American side executed neither this nor other, more important, obligations set out in the Agreed Framework.
Today the embassy of Sweden represents interests of the US in Pyongyang. This causes many inconveniences compelling the parties to resolve the situation, especially in light of the improving relations between the US and Cuba, a country, which had been demonized by the US as much as North Korea.
Here is one more important thought. The “democratic press” painstakingly molds an image of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea as a country incapable of achieving agreements and unwilling to negotiate with anyone. All its proposals are inevitably renounced as demagogical and meaningless. However, analyses of both the inter-Korean and regional crises involving the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea show that in the majority of cases North Korea was the one to make settlement proposals. A recent example is the August 2015 crisis, which was settled by way of negotiations between the North and the South initiated by North Korea.
Konstantin Asmolov, Ph.D, Chief Research Fellow of the Center for Korean Studies, Institute of Far Eastern Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”