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Resolving US-North Korea tension requires a formal end to Korean War

Last week, the Biden administration announced it had finalized its North Korea policy review. While many details are missing, the policy review prioritizes a phased agreement toward full denuclearization, rejecting the Trump administration’s “all-or-nothing” approach that failed at the Hanoi summit in 2019.  

That the administration is prepared to engage in diplomacy and honor the 2018 Singapore Agreement, in which the United States and North Korea committed to working toward a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula, is a step in the right direction. However, the Biden administration’s approach is likely to be limited if it fails to address mutual security concerns. As called for by many peace groups, a more realistic strategy would be to pursue a transformative, peace-based approach. 

As these groups point out, the unresolved state of the Korean War, which was only halted by an armistice in 1953, is the root cause of tensions between the United States and North Korea. A recent report from the global campaign Korea Peace Now! argues that formally ending the Korean War with a peace agreement would be a more viable and effective framework for resolving the security crisis by addressing North Korea’s security concerns and removing Pyongyang’s stated justification for nuclear weapons. 

As the Biden administration has noted, past approaches with North Korea have failed. But they’ve failed precisely because they’ve never addressed the root cause of the problem. Negotiations remain in a deadlock because the state of war has so deteriorated communication and trust. Neither side will lower their weapons. A peace agreement between the United States and the two Koreas would bindingly end the state of the Korean War and recognize once and for all that wartime rights to use force have ended. A peace agreement would also enable the normalization of relations and pave the way toward more effective engagements on complex issues like denuclearization and human rights.  

The United States has a moral responsibility to take the lead in resolving the crisis, and should do so by committing to a peace-first approach and taking reciprocal nuclear disarmament actions. The United States is most susceptible to be engaged in use of force in Korea, given its massive military presence, its regular participation in joint military exercises with the South, and the fact that it would have operational control over South Korean armed forces if combat resumed. Furthermore, the two Koreas have also together explicitly called for a peace agreement, and the United States should respect what the people of Korea want. 

We need a culture shift in Washington — a shift toward an approach that resolves the human costs of war. This change must start with Congress as representatives of the American people. After all, 67 percent of Americans across political affiliations support negotiating a peace agreement with North Korea. It is time for Congress to step up and call on the Biden administration to formally end the Korean War with a binding peace agreement. There is already support in Congress for this approach — House Resolution 152, which called for a formal end to the Korean War, had 52 co-sponsors in the 116th Congress.

As long as the United States and North Korea remain in a state of war, the potential for an accidental or intentional military conflict on the Korean Peninsula remains. Such a conflict would be devastating, impacting millions of people. Ending the oldest U.S. forever-war would improve the security of all sides, not to mention help reunite thousands of Korean Americans with family members in North Korea. 

Biden has called North Korea the United States’ foremost foreign policy challenge. To meet this challenge requires a bold new approach that puts peace at the beginning — not the end — of the process. With support from Congress and a grassroots peace movement, it can be done.

Colleen Moore is the advocacy coordinator for Women Cross DMZ, which mobilizes women globally for peace in Korea and women’s inclusion in the peace process.

Tags Korean War North Korea Peace Trump administration

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