Agreement in Korea

December 15, 1991

The treaty signed by the prime ministers of the two Koreas is a remarkable promise of progress toward peace on the peninsula. One nation has been divided ideologically for 46 years, and at war with itself for 41. But note carefully those P-words. It is only a promise, not peace itself. The implementation called for would be the progress. Other understandings between the two Koreas have failed in the implementation. There are reasons to think this agreement will prove real, but it would be premature to accept that as proven.

Year-long negotiations, including five prime ministerial meetings, hatched this "Agreement on Reconciliation, Non-Aggression and Exchanges and Cooperation Between the South and the North." The political fact driving them forward was the isolation of the impoverished northern regime of the Communist dictator, Kim Il-sung.

But Kim still has a terrifyingly large army, a nuclear weapons research program and totalitarian controls. South Korea dilutes its prosperity with military preparedness, and deals warily with a sophisticated people wanting more democracy. The agreement calls off attempts by each regime to invade, subvert or sabotage the other. It calls for negotiations toward a peace treaty. It starts military discussions of nuclear inspections, notification of military maneuvers and a hot-line between commanders. It sets up liaisons by which ten million Koreans in divided families might seek reunion.

Wonderful! But those things should start before the U.S. resumes removal of the 39,000 American troops remaining in South Korea. And before Japan, the only country capable of rescuing North Korea from its self-imposed poverty, offers aid or private-sector investment.

North Korean communism must fail. Korea is likely to be united on the German model. But the North will fall of its own weight. No push from the South is required. As a device for saving the ossified Marxist regime, the pact will fail. As a promise of progress toward liberating all the people of Korea from the Cold War, it is momentous. But the promise must not be confused with its fulfillment.

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