This morning the Wall Street Journal reported that the United States is thinking of ways of formally ending the Korean War, which was started in June 1950 by Kim Il Sung, the father of Kim Jong Il. An armistice in 1953 ended the fighting, but no peace treaty was ever signed.
The article also notes that Washington is seeking to create a permanent organization to handle security concerns in North Asia, something similar to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The concept is that, if North Korea can be disarmed, there is a possibility of maintaining peace through continual dialogue in an official body.
Since the end of hostilities in Korea, military alliances have remained in place. On one side, China and North Korea are each other’s only formal military ally. On the other, there are American mutual defense treaties with South Korea and Japan. The Journal reports that Washington planners are concerned that if the North Korean threat disappears, the main justification for the two American alliances ends.
Memo to the Bush administration: If North Korea were to give up all its nuclear weapons, all of its missiles, and every last ounce of plutonium tomorrow—a pleasing thought, but don’t hold your breath—Seoul and Tokyo would still want the protection of the American military. The Koreans and Japanese each perceive the Chinese, the local hegemons, as a threat. The border between Korea and China has moved hundreds of miles in each direction over the last half millennium, and even today it is not stable. China and Japan, which also have a tradition of warfare against each other, currently have territorial disputes involving islands and huge portions of waters. Moreover, the Koreans and Japanese are not on good terms with each other, due to recent grievances piled on top of ancient historical reasons.
It’s the United States, in the end, that maintains the peace in North Asia. Creating a permanent organization to give a greater voice to an increasingly assertive China will only make matters worse.