Renewed Sunshine: What Peace Means for the Korean Peninsula

Salvatore Esquibel Analysis, Asia, Politics & Society Leave a Comment

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On April 27 2018, Kim Jung Un and Moon Jae-in attended a summit in the Panmunjom to formally mark the end of the Korean war. The dialogue for peace was perhaps one of the most formative and important events in the East Asian geopolitical sphere as it promises renewed dialogue between the Koreas and stability in the region.

The Korean war signifies the enduring effect ideology has on the way both Koreas interact with each other. But ideology and its tenets besides, the real difference between North and South Korea are the different modes of economic development that they decide to employ. While the North decided to stick to Communist party lines, the South has famously followed a more Western course. There were obvious implications for alliances, trade, and domestic urbanization (or lack thereof).  

These modes of development have changed during, even in spite of, the war. As time went on, both Koreas attempted to mend their differences by way of economic incentive. The efforts of their labours was best exemplified by the decade of the Sunshine policy, which began roughly in 1998 and ended in 2008. During this time, there was significant tourism from the South to the North. The DMZ lost some of its intense mystery as South Korean citizens were able to cross it into Kaesong and Mount Kumgang. A total of fifteen family reunions took place.

The DMZ was appropriately affected. Formerly the physical symbol of division and difference, the South Korean-proposed Peace Belt was to stretch along the entirety of the DMZ and incorporate ecoparks and cooperation Zones, with a Tourism zone to the east and an industrial zone to the west. The purpose was to facilitate dialogue in an attempt to prepare both countries for reunification.

The Sunshine era abruptly ended after a South Korean national was shot by a North Korean soldier. North Korea’s decision to not allow an internal investigation angered the South and both countries ceased communication after neither could restore relations to what they once were. Pyongyang’s nuclear tests further deteriorated relations. The last summit between the Koreas was in 2007.

The 2018 Summit demonstrated that both Koreas aim to denuclearize the peninsula, but this process will be complex. The First main point, which is to resume family reunions and reconnect blood ties, will be relatively easy to implement as previous inter-Korean, Sunshine-era dialogues provide necessary institutional frameworks.

The Second point, that there will be joint efforts to “alleviate” military tensions, concerns the Demilitarized Zone. Hostile acts will cease on May 1 2018. The South Korean Peace Belt project may resume and bring economic development to the bordering regions as well as improving tourism. There is already established infrastructure that can facilitate the renewal of this initiative.

The Third point, the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, is the most complicated of the Summit in that the international frameworks, such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), present a formidable challenge to achieving denuclearization. 

Denuclearization may only be reached if “complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization” (CVID) is possible. This process seems like one that requires the oversight of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), whose purpose is to ensure that states correspond to nuclear standards determined by the international community.. North Korea would have to resume its membership with the Agency. Yet the issue is that the IAEA has set its own terms and conditions to verify the DPRK nuclear programme. North Korea would need to resolve all outstanding issues with the UN Security Council and IAEA, all relevant resolutions thereof, that have been passed since the DPRK left the IAEA in 2003. The U.S., as a major signatory to a peace treaty, stated that it will not hold direct talks on peace until after “concrete” steps were demonstrated by the DPRK. But North Korea’s relationship with the IAEA must be reconciled first before anything concrete can happen.

The IAEA has never been fully able to verify the extent to which the DPRK programme is complete.The last inspection was in 2009.  Since 1991, Pyongyang was and has been largely noncompliant with the IAEA itself and the Agreement(s) which it signed with the U.S. and South Korea. A full image of the DPRK’s nuclear capabilities and infrastructure is required before it can be denuclearized. This will take time as it was reported that it would take up to four years to completely verify DPRK’s nuclear programme. Assuming that this timeframe has not changed, it may take the same amount of time to verify and affirm CVID. The full effect of the peace treaty, then, may only be felt by 2020 or 2022.

How the United States negotiates with North Korea will determine the success of denuclearization. The 1994 crisis was due largely to a “crime and punishment” approach that ended in animosity. It should be noted that North Korea’s nuclear restraint in the early 1990s could be attributed to its want of economic and strategic security. The heavy-handed approach led to North Korean noncompliance, an attitude which may resurface again during negotiation. Harry Harris, former Admiral for US. Pacific Command and newly appointed Ambassador to South Korea, has reiterated that, concerning North Korea’s nuclear development, diplomacy should be backed by military.

Both Koreas are receptive to tri- and quadri-lateral dialogue and this may facilitate discussions at the international level, which has previously been lacking. The difference now is that South Korea will be playing role of mediator in North Korea-U.S relations. Inspection serves as the primary step to denuclearization. However, the method by which North Korea is inspected will largely determine how denuclearization proceeds on the peninsula. The 1991 Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean peninsula failed due to poor confidence and trust between the Koreas and lack of adequate manpower and required tools. 

While it appears that President Moon has initiated policies reminiscent of the Sunshine era, it is evident that he has inherited the issues that preceded it and are as yet still unresolved. This will be the next definite, major step in his pursuit for peace on the Korean peninsula.

About the Author
Salvatore Esquibel

Salvatore Esquibel

Salvatore Esquibel is a Political Analyst for South East Asia at the Canadian Centre for Strategic Studies. An Alumni of Concordia University with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Mandarin, he holds a position as an English teacher at Montreal Confucius School. Additionally, Salvatore is a Director at the Journal for Education Reintegration, the research component of kiki4kids, a charity based at the Montreal Children's hospital. Salvatore intends to pursue research in medicine, specifically rare genetic disorders such as Marfan syndrome, which he has.

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