General

Imagining A Korean Peace Treaty And Its Implications

Written
by Andrew
Korybko
, Eurasia Future, 2018-04-18

A Korean
Peace Treaty might finally be on the horizon after over six decades of a tense
armistice, and while it’s possible for a unified Korea to function as a pivotal
Silk Road hub, there are also certain Hybrid War pitfalls that it must take
care to avoid as well.

A
high-level South Korean security advisor announced
that his country was seriously exploring the possibility of agreeing to a
Korean Peace Treaty with the North in exchange for Pyongyang “denuclearizing”,
the understanding of which the official surprisingly said “does not vary
from country to country (because) the way we, the United States and
North Korea see denuclearization is the same.”  This is a major
declaration in and of itself because it had hitherto been thought that the US
and North Korea’s views on this issue were drastically different, in that
Washington demanded that the North give up its nuclear weapons without any
preconditions while Pyongyang insisted that the Pentagon fully withdraw from
the South as a prerequisite to this happening.
Prospects
For Peace
For the
first time since the Korean Armistice Agreement, it looks like peace might
finally prevail on the peninsula, especially considering that Trump plans to
meet with Kim Jong-Un in the next month or two and also revealed
that talks are presently ongoing between both sides at “a little bit short of
the highest level”. Furthermore, it was just reported that CIA chief
and Secretary of State of nominee Mike Pompeo paid a secret visit to North
Korea at the beginning of the month in order to organize the upcoming meeting
between the two heads of state, demonstrating that this is indeed a very
serious process and not something superficial that was hyped up by Trump like
some voices in the Mainstream Media have been suspecting.
While
it’s impossible to know exactly what might be agreed upon if a Korean Peace
Treaty is eventually signed, it’s possible to make educated inferences about
its content and the implications of this prospective move based on the information
that’s already known so far, as well as the incorporation of some sensible
speculation in order to “fill in the gaps” and attempt to form a clearer vision
of the potential future. This thought exercise is valuable because it could
provide a glimpse of what Northeast Asia’s geopolitical situation might be like
in the coming years, thus helping governments and the general population better
prepare for the resultant scenarios that could either help or hinder their
interests. 
“Confederating”
The Koreas
Going by
what’s been revealed thus far and assuming that the information is accurate and
will more or less be implemented in practice, then there’s a distinct
possibility that the US might actually withdraw from the Korean Peninsula or
dramatically scale down its presence there in order to satisfy North Korea’s
security requirements for giving up its nuclear weapons. This could then prompt
the phased opening of borders between the two Koreas, with its “soft” iteration
of Seoul-based financial investment preceding its “hard” form of physically
allowing the relatively free movement of goods and people. Concurrent with
this, efforts might be made to “confederate” the Koreas and draft a “unitary”
constitution that mandates military neutrality, though also allowing extremely
broad-based autonomy for both and therefore resulting in only nominally unified
institutions like those in Bosnia.
The Big
Bargain
Both the
US and North Korea would have their respective reasons for agreeing to this
arrangement. The Pentagon might realize that its interests can be sustained for
much less than it’s paying now if it keeps the then-“confederated” region of
South Korea under its nuclear umbrella after withdrawing or dramatically
scaling down its troop commitment. The wars of the
future
will be fought much more differently than the ones of the
past and large-standing armies like the American one in South Korea and the
theoretical post-war occupation of North Korea that the US is planning for
might never happen at all. Instead, robots, missiles, cyberattacks, and
terrorism are what it will end up relying on in the coming years, thus meaning
that no strategic edge would be lost through this scenario.
As for
North Korea, it can only be speculated upon, but it appears as though something
must have happened behind the scenes sometime since the beginning of Trump’s
presidency
to convince it to possibly abandon its nuclear program.
Pyongyang knew how serious
the US President was about potentially nuking it if “need” be, but the only
thing that held him back was the nearly quarter
of a million Americans
living in South Korea who would have to be
sacrificed if that happened. Nevertheless, some sort of “shadow war” might have
been waged through tactical strike teams and targeted assassinations, or maybe
even the demonstration or threat of a
new military technology
, to have brought North Korea to the
denuclearization bargaining table given its previous refusal to do so without
the US first withdrawing from the South.
Win-Win…
Regardless
of how any Korean Peace Treaty comes about, it would undoubtedly be beneficial
for both Koreas. The North would become one of the most competitive areas in
the world given its mostly
untapped rare earth mineral deposits
and low-wage labor situated
right in the middle of the “world’s factory” of Northeast Asia. In addition,
the onset of a formal peace could finally allow Russia to pioneer a “Korean
Corridor
” for connecting the two peninsular states to the
Trans-Siberian Railway and thenceforth to the EU marketplace via a unimodal
mainland route and/or link the countries up with a prospective “Tikhito Tiksi
corridor in connecting the region with the Arctic Ocean’s Northern Sea
Route
as part of a cheaper multimodal path to Europe. China could
also get involved in this too and turn the Korean Peninsula into a significant
Silk Road hub.
…Or
Zero-Sum?
That
said, there are also “zero-sum” considerations that might come into play as
well, the most prominent being that a “too competitive” Korea could take away
from the investment attractiveness of the Russian Far East and possibly
diminish China’s existing marketplace dominance in North Korea. Another factor
to keep an eye on is the gradual inflow of American influence via trading and
cultural mechanisms that will inevitably enter the communist country and could
possibly lead to pernicious political consequences just like it did in Eastern
Europe and the USSR during the late 1980s.
Relatedly,
North Korea will be pressed to reform its rigid and outdated communist system
as it slowly enters the globalized world, but the long-term systemic
consequences of this careful recalibration might be unpredictable and
inadvertently catalyze uncontrollable
reactions
in society. Any unrest or destabilization in a nominally
“confederated” Korea could be taken advantage of by the South and its US
military patron to either delay the withdrawal or drawdown of American
personnel and/or threaten to redeploy them in the North, which could suddenly
destroy whatever peacemaking gains were already made.
“Known
Unknowns”
None of
the aforementioned win-win or zero-sum scenarios are possible unless a Korean
Peace Treaty is first promulgated and the two Koreas fully normalize relations
with one another, a seemingly herculean diplomatic process that could easily be
offset by several factors:
* The
relevant parties returning to having separate understandings of what
“denuclearization” entails;
* The US
refusing to adequately meet North Korea’s security demands through a full
withdrawal or large-scale drawdown;
* A
disagreement between the Koreas over what one of the possible deal-making
compromises of “military neutrality” would actually mean in practice (largely
pertinent to the American military presence and South Korea’s mutual defense
treaty with the US);
*
Differing visions for how a phased “confederalization” and the gradual “opening
up” of North Korea to South Korea and then the rest of the world would play
out;
* North
Korea’s “ideological flexibility” to its inevitable systemic transformation
under these described circumstances and its leadership’s sincere commitment to
this;
 *
and the disruptive influence of hostile elements of the American “deep state
to the Korean peace process.
Concluding
Thoughts
There’s
no telling whether next week’s Panmunjom
Summit
between the North and South Korean leaders will actually
yield any tangible progess on a Korean Peace Treaty, nor whether the upcoming
Trump-Kim one will either, but this long-stalemated process has nevertheless
been infused with a new momentum over the past month ever since the American
President announced his wiliness to unprecedentedly meet with his communist
counterpart. The signals that all sides are giving indicate that something
positive might really be afoot, hence the relevance in conducting this thought
exercise about the possibility of a Korean Peace Treaty and its consequent
implications.
While a
superficial analysis would suggest that this is a win-win outcome for everyone,
that might not necessarily be the case if this eventuality actually transpires
because of the chance that North Korea might be internally destabilized with
time just like the former Soviet satellites of Eastern Europe and even the USSR
itself were in the late 1980s On the other hand, if a unified Korea becomes
“too independent” and “too successful”, then it might develop into its own
center of power in in the emerging
Multipolar World Order
, which isn’t necessarily a “bad” thing but
could become troublesome if it’s pressured into aligning with the US.
All told,
it’s impossible for anyone to know the exact odds of reaching a Korean Peace
Treaty in the first place or the full impact that its geopolitical consequences
could have if it’s ever implemented, but broadening one’s thought horizons by
imagining the most realistic possibilities of both allows people to get a
clearer vision of the potential future. Moreover, the insight that various
scenario forecasts yield can prompt excited brainstorming discussions that help
experts narrow down the most likely possibilities of what could actually
happen, thus helping the Great Powers and their populations get a more accurate
sense of what they should prepare for should this monumental event come to
pass.