Expert Voices

Korean Armistice Agreement still valuable 65 years later

South Korean war veterans pay silent tribute during a ceremony marking the 68th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War in Seoul on June 25, 2018.
South Korean war veterans pay silent tribute in a ceremony marking the 68th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War, in Seoul, on June 25, 2018. Photo: Jung Yeon-Je/AFP via Getty Images

This spring, President Trump signaled a potential desire to replace the agreement, calling on Twitter for the “KOREAN WAR TO END!” and promising a "peace regime" with Kim Jong-un in Singapore. Meanwhile, the armistice agreement that ended the Korean War — a truce, not a peace treaty — endures, reaching its 65th anniversary on Friday.

The big picture: History is littered with peace proclamations that North Korea signed and then ignored. While Pyongyang has repeatedly renounced the Armistice, and both sides have violated it on occasion, it’s the one deal with North Korea that has stood the test of time.

Reaching a binding peace treaty with North Korea would require resolution of many intractable issues, including North Korea’s denuclearization. Even more problematic would be the non-binding “peace declaration” proposed by the two Korean leaders, since it would likely bolster Pyongyang’s demand for the end of the U.S. alliance with South Korea.

The armistice agreement is an old but serviceable pact that has effectively prevented conflict on the Korean Peninsula. Before replacing it, the U.S. would first need to set up a credible negotiating processes to halt, roll back and eliminate North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

Daniel Russel is vice president for international security and diplomacy at the Asia Society Policy Institute and a former assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.