Korean War Peace Treaty

Song Min-Soon will visit the United States next month to discuss a Korean War peace treaty to replace the armistice. There has already been, and there will be much more, talk on the role of US forces on the Korean peninsula after the signing of a peace treaty.

On Friday, Foreign Minister Song stated that US forces will remain committed on the Korean Peninsula after the signing of a Peace Treaty. Indeed, if there ever were conflict on the Korean peninsula, US assistance would be essential.

However, arguably, the support of other coalition partners would also prove important. Other coalition partners not only aid US forces in niche military roles but also provide greater credibility to the use of force.  What has not been considered in Korean debate regarding a Korean War Peace Treaty is the fact that while US forces would remain committed after the signing, other coalition partners that were involved in the Korean War would not.

On the same day that representatives of the UN Command signed the Korean War Armistice in Kaesong, the sixteen states that sent troops to the Korean War under the UN flag signed the ”Joint Policy Declaration Concerning the Armistice in Korea”, far away in Washington. The Joint Policy Declaration confirmed the resolve of the signatories to resist any new armed attack, in the interest of world peace and in accordance with the principles of the United Nations.

This declaration is in diplomatic terms, something of a wild card. Arguably, it does not legally require the signatories to defend South Korea, but it does give them the legal justification to do so, should South Korea’s security be threatened. If the Armistice is replaced by a Peace Treaty, the Joint Policy Declaration becomes void.

Accordingly, signing a Peace Treaty has substantial implications that must be thought through. South Korea only has one security partner. In comparison, other regional middle powers have diversified security relationships. Singapore, for example, has formal arrangements with the UK, Australia, New Zealand, the United States as well as the ASEAN structure. Australia has formal arrangements with New Zealand, the US, UK, Japan and Indonesia. Should the United States leave, for whatever reason, the neighborhood is a damned ugly place for a middle power?

Has the South Korean Government fully thought through the implications of a Peace Treaty? I really think we need to be certain that North Korea’s nuclear programs are fully dismantled before we sign a Korean War Peace Treaty – because calling for world help will never be as easy as it was in 1950…

As usual, there’ll be plenty more discussion on this at Marmot’s Hole – though just like Korean language debate, there will probably be no mention of those other states that also made guarantees to Korean security.

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