Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un step across the border together. Photo: Korea Summit Press Pool via Reuters
Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un step across the border together. Photo: Korea Summit Press Pool via Reuters

The signing of a peace treaty to formally end the state of war on the Korean peninsula to replace the 1953 armistice agreement has been highlighted in the media ever since North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and South Korean president Moon Jae-in signed a joint declaration at the border post of Panmunjom on April 27. But it is far from clear who would sign such a treaty. The North attacked the South in June 1950, but the war was then fought by US-led UN forces on one side and the North Korean army supported by Chinese “volunteers” on the other.

The armistice agreement, which brought about a cessation of hostilities, was signed on July 27, 1953, also at Panmunjom, by General Nam Il representing the North Korean army and the Chinese volunteers and Lieutenant-General William K. Harrison of the US army on behalf of the United Nations Command. South Korea was not a signatory to the agreement, but a military demarcation line was drawn up separating the two Koreas and thereby guaranteeing the survival of the Republic of Korea.

So would a North-South Korea treaty be sufficient to end the state of war? Or could the two Koreas sign their own treaty, and the signatories of 1953 would then annul the old armistice agreement? Such questions may seem unnecessarily pedantic, but could become important if, for instance, the US decides that there are certain parts of the peace treaty that it does not approve of. And what role would or could the UN play today?

Legally speaking, the peace treaty, if it materializes, could replace the armistice agreement only if the signatories of the latter approve of the former, and is that possible? North Korea has already expressed its displeasure with what the Korean Central News Agency on May 6 called US provocations, military threats and attempts to Washington to pressure North Korea on human rights. And Frank Ruediger, wrote on the website 38 North on May 8: “How much will Kim Jong-un really offer in exchange for the lifting of sanctions, a peace treaty to end the Korean War, diplomatic normalization with the United States and other concessions he may be seeking?

The broad agreement between most North Korea analysts is: not very much, if anything substantial at all. The question is whether the US, given these circumstances, would approve of the suggested peace treaty. And if it doesn’t it could be seen as the spoiler of the peace process – which would suit not only North Korea but most probably also China.

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