As disputes go, this one really has dragged on. Some 65 years since open hostilities ended in the Korean War, North Korea and the U.S. are still technically at war. The sudden warming of relations this year between North Korea and both South Korea and the U.S. have improved prospects of a long-overdue resolution.
1. Why is the Korean War still not over?
Because the parties involved in talks to end the war -- North and South Korea, China and the United Nations (representing the international community, including the U.S.) -- never were able to agree on a peace treaty. What was signed in 1953 was only an armistice, or truce, and only among three of the four parties, as South Korea held out. That’s why the border between the two nations has been one of the world’s tensest for decades.
2. Why is there a chance for a peace agreement now?
North Korea’s Kim Jong Un wants a security guarantee to ensure the survival of his regime, and a peace treaty would be part of that. It also could open the door for North Korea to get full diplomatic recognition from the U.S. For U.S. President Donald Trump, who has talked on many occasions about the cost of keeping U.S. soldiers stationed in South Korea, a peace deal might provide added justification to bring some or all of the 28,000 American troops home. But if that were to happen without North Korea scuttling its nuclear-weapons program, Japan and South Korea could feel the need to get their own nuclear weapons, setting off a regional arms race.
3. How swiftly could a peace deal happen?
When Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in met in April, they announced plans to formally declare a resolution to the war and turn the current armistice into a peace treaty by year’s end, as well as aiming for full denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
4. Have North Korea and South Korea ever come close to peace?
It’s seemed that way. At a 2007 summit in Pyongyang, President Roh Moo-hyun and Kim Jong Il (Kim Jong Un’s father) settled on dozens of agreements aimed at supporting North Korea’s economy and recommitted to a declaration made at a summit in 2000 -- the first between leaders of North Korea and South Korea -- that the two sides would seek peaceful reunification.
5. What came of that peace effort?
Negotiations -- known as the “six-party talks” -- broke down in 2008 after North Korea refused to allow international inspectors to visit nuclear facilities. Around the same time, South Korea elected a conservative president, Lee Myung-bak, who favored a harder line and abandoned his predecessor’s so-called “Sunshine Policy” toward North Korea. The sinking of a South Korean corvette, killing 46 sailors, by a suspected North Korean torpedo prompted the newly elected president to cut off all ties.
--With assistance from Peter Pae.
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