South Korea Should Not Be So Quick to Offer a Peace Treaty to Pyongyang
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By Stephen Schwalbe, Ph.D.
Faculty Member, Public Administration, American Military University
South Korea recently proposed that the U.S. negotiate a peace treaty with North Korea that would officially end the Korean War. In return, North Korea would destroy its Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center.
In reply to South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s proposal, the North Korean state-run newspaper Rodong Sinmun said in an editorial, “the adoption of a war-end declaration is a task that brooks no further delay.”
“Its adoption is of weighty significance in ensuring the peace and security of the Korean peninsula and the world, to say nothing of the confidence-building between (North Korea) and the U.S. and the improvement of their relations,” the newspaper added.
The Yongbyon facility is located about 100 kilometers (62 miles) north of Pyongyang, the North Korean capital. Among other things, the facility produces the fissile material that North Korea needs to manufacture its nuclear weapons.
Moon Believes Closing Yongbyon Facility Would Show North Korea’s Commitment to Denuclearization
The South Korean President believes that shutting down the Yongbyon facility would be an acceptable step to demonstrate North Korea’s earnest denuclearization efforts.
In 2003, North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). This withdrawal was partly due to President George W. Bush having included North Korea as one of his three “Axis of Evil” countries in his State of the Union address in 2002.
To reverse this move, the so-called Six Party talks were established in 2003 among the U.S., North Korea, South Korea, China, Russia and Japan. After the fifth round of talks in 2007, Pyongyang agreed to shut down its Yongbyon nuclear facility in exchange for imported fuel and the normalization of relations.
On July 18, 2007, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed that the five nuclear plants at Yongbyon had been shut down. On June 27, 2008, North Korea destroyed the cooling tower at the Yongbyon nuclear facility’s main atomic reactor, which the U.S. had paid $2.5 million to demolish.
But seven years later, on September 15, 2015, North Korea announced that the Yongbyon nuclear facility was fully operational again.
Destroying Youngbyon Would Not Remove North Korean Nuclear Threat
The suggestion to again dismantle the Yongbyon nuclear facility in exchange for a permanent peace treaty seems disingenuous and naive. Even if North Korea were to dismantle the facility, it still has other nuclear facilities around the country as well as at least 20 nuclear weapons. Also, as we have seen, North Korea can restore the Yongbyon nuclear facility at any time.
North Korea and China would likely exploit a peace treaty ending the Korean War to pressure the U.S. to remove its military forces from South Korea. After all, why would the U.S. need a military presence in South Korea if a peace treaty was concluded that ended the war?
While South Korea is motivated to conclude economic deals with the North, it is not useful to offer North Korea incentives that could result in little progress toward denuclearization and a potential fracturing of the current U.S.-South Korean military alliance. Only Pyongyang and Beijing would benefit from such an agreement.
About the Author
Dr. Stephen Schwalbe is an associate professor at American Military University. He is also an adjunct professor at Columbia College. Stephen received a Ph.D. in Public Administration and Public Policy from Auburn University in 2006. He served as a Defense Attache in Seoul, South Korea, from 1995 to 1997.