It’s time to put an end to the Korean War

Truro Daily News - - OPINION - Thomas Walkom

Here’s an idea for cool­ing nu­clear ten­sions be­tween North Korea and the United States. Why not start by ne­go­ti­at­ing an end to the Korean War?

Tech­ni­cally, the war that be­gan in 1950 when Py­ongyang in­vaded South Korea is still on­go­ing. An armistice in 1953 halted the fight­ing, the idea be­ing that the war­ring par­ties would meet within three months to ham­mer out a for­mal peace treaty. But the meet­ing never oc­curred.

With Don­ald Trump as U.S. pres­i­dent, that war is in dan­ger of reignit­ing.

The his­tory of Amer­i­can in­volve­ment in Korea is tor­tu­ous. It be­gan at the end of the Sec­ond World War when the U.S. sup­ported one Korean gov­ern­ment in Seoul and the Soviet Union backed an­other in Py­ongyang. It so­lid­i­fied as these ri­val gov­ern­ments vied for po­si­tion. It turned hot in 1950 when the U.S. per­suaded the United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil to au­tho­rize armed force against North Korean troops in­vad­ing the South.

On pa­per, the war was waged be­tween North Korea and the 16 na­tions of the UN Com­mand (in­clud­ing Canada). In prac­tice, it was a show­down be­tween the U.S. and Py­ongyang, the lat­ter aided by Chi­nese “vol­un­teers.”

The war was bru­tal and nasty. Amer­i­can bombers flat­tened the North. Hun­dreds of thou­sands of civil­ians through­out the Korean Penin­sula were killed or wounded.

And it taught the regime in the North two lessons. First, it could wage war against the world’s most pow­er­ful na­tion and sur­vive. Sec­ond, China – while a re­luc­tant ally – would in the end and for its own geopo­lit­i­cal pur­poses al­ways come to Py­ongyang’s aid.

Both of these views still seem to hold in the North – which is why Trump’s strat­egy of blus­ter and in­tim­i­da­tion is un­likely to work.

Since the pres­i­dency of the first Ge­orge Bush, Wash­ing­ton has been try­ing to fig­ure a way to cool North Korea’s ar­dour for mis­siles and nu­clear weapons. Ne­go­ti­a­tions have been held, ap­proaches made.

At one point, Amer­ica agreed to sup­ply North Korea with tech­nol­ogy for peace­ful nu­clear power if it gave up its weapons pro­gram. At an­other, it agreed to pro­vide the coun­try with oil.

Oc­ca­sion­ally, suc­cess seemed im­mi­nent. But then po­lit­i­cal re­al­ity would in­trude. A new U.S. pres­i­dent would be elected on a prom­ise to get tough with the North. The North Kore­ans would re­vert to hos­til­ity mode.

Wash­ing­ton rarely trusted North Korea. At one point, Ge­orge W. Bush fa­mously called it part of the “axis of evil.” The feel­ing was re­cip­ro­cated.

Py­ongyang twisted and turned. But through­out, it kept re­turn­ing to the same re­al­ity – in a world dom­i­nated by the hos­tile Amer­i­cans, nu­clear weapons were ne­ces­si­ties. The down­fall of Sad­dam Hus­sein in Iraq and Moam­mar Gad­hafi in Libya showed what could hap­pen to regimes with­out weapons of mass de­struc­tion. North Korea wasn’t about to make the same mis­take.

In short, don’t ex­pect the North’s cur­rent dy­nas­tic dic­ta­tor, Kim Jong Un, to give up nu­clear weapons just be­cause Trump is talk­ing tough. Other U.S. pres­i­dents talked tough with Kim’s grand­fa­ther and father. Both sur­vived.

Sim­i­larly, don’t ex­pect China to work mir­a­cles. China may have lit­tle pa­tience for its ally’s grand nu­clear am­bi­tions. And it is ex­ert­ing some eco­nomic pres­sure on Py­ongyang by, for in­stance, re­fus­ing to buy North Korean coal.

But the dy­namic that brought China into the Korean War still holds. A bel­liger­ent regime in Py­ongyang may not be good for China. But chaos, or the prospect of Amer­ica dom­i­nat­ing the en­tire Korean Penin­sula, would be worse.

Which brings me back to the Korean War. It is the great piece of un­fin­ished busi­ness. If Wash­ing­ton and Py­ongyang are to ever trust one an­other, they – along with South Korea – must ne­go­ti­ate the peace that will fi­nally end this war, with­out pre­con­di­tions.

Will wrap­ping up the war con­vince the North Kore­ans to forego the de­vel­op­ment of nu­clear weapons? I doubt it. It is too late for that. But the world has sur­vived nu­clear-armed regimes in In­dia, Pak­istan and Is­rael. It should be able to sur­vive more.

China ar­gues that the an­swer to the U.S.-Korean stand­off is ne­go­ti­a­tion. China is right. A peace treaty that fi­nally ends the state of war be­tween these two ec­cen­tri­cally led na­tions would be a good place to start.

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