This is a re-up of an essay I wrote a few weeks ago at 1945.com on the debate over an ‘end of war’ declaration in Korea. The debate has passed, but it was pretty hot in December and January, when Moon was pushing pretty hard for it.
My big concern about the end-of-war declaration was that no really knew what it means. If it were a treaty, it would be called a treaty and would be binding. But since it is not, would it be binding? No one really knows.
It is highly unlikely that North Korea would alter its behavior because of it, so I think the drive behind was: A) Moon’s desire for some kind of legacy after 5 years of hyperbolic but failed diplomacy with the North, and B) grounds for the activist left in South Korea to say that the US and UN should leave South Korea and that UN sanctions should be rolled back.
If the South Koreans want us to leave, then of course we should. But I wish Moon’s coalition were more honest about why they sought this thing. The Biden administration dragged its feet until Moon finally dropped it. It is painfully obvious that Biden does not trust Moon after he played Trump (to meet Kim by suggesting he’d win a Nobel) and is just waiting for the next POTROK.
Here’s that essay:
As the presidency of Moon Jae-In in South Korea winds down, Moon has pushed hard for an ‘end of war declaration’ (EoW) over the still legally unfinished Korean War. Last week, I argued in this magazine that this declaration is curious approach. The inter-Korean armistice is pretty stable, and when it is broken, it is North Korea which does the breaking through its frequent border provocations. Also, legally, no one really knows what this declaration would do. A treaty is the well-established tool for ending wars; an EoW declaration is a diplomatic neologism. It is not clear if this declaration is intended to replace the armistice or a potential treaty, or supplement them in some unknown way. Or perhaps it is just symbolism.
For the rest, do here please.
Robert E Kelly
Department of Political Science & Diplomacy
Pusan National University