Twelve hours in Panmunjom—the village in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea that has long symbolized division and war—produced an unexpected miracle of peace on Friday. In the Panmunjom Declaration, Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong Un, the leaders of South and North Korea, pledged that “there will be no more war on the Korean Peninsula and thus a new era of peace has begun.” Given North Korea’s military provocations, the growing North Korean nuclear arsenal, and the acute sense of crisis that has haunted South Koreans over the last year, such a reversal looks surreal. But after attending all three summits between the two Koreas (in 2000, 2007, and 2018), I believe that this latest one represents real progress and lays the groundwork for lasting peace.
Although much commentary has focused on the remaining difficulties, which are considerable, it has missed just how much was accomplished last week. Moon and Kim did not just make high-level commitments; they also laid out specific timetables for implementing them and took concrete steps that will have immediate effects in facilitating cooperation and preventing conflict. That offers cause for hope that for all the remaining challenges, a comprehensive peace deal including real denuclearization by North Korea is achievable in a couple of years, if not in the months ahead.
ENDING THE KOREAN WAR
The tangible outcomes of the summit are significant. It successfully normalized inter-Korean relations, and the two leaders agreed to “hold dialogue and negotiations in various fields including at a high level, and to take active measures to implement the agreements reached at the Summit.” They will establish a joint liaison office with resident representatives from both sides and encourage active cooperation, exchanges, visits, and contacts at all levels. They also agreed to proceed with reunion programs for families split between North and South Korea, on the occasion of National Liberation Day on August 15. And there will be practical steps to connect and modernize railways and roads, building on a 2007 agreement.
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