Peace Regime Building for a Nuclear Weapon-Free Korean Peninsula: Next Steps for Capacity Building

Last updated May 14, 2011

In cooperation with institutional partners in Northeast Asia, IFPA is leading a nongovernmental (Track 2) multinational working group to address security issues on the Korean peninsula. Despite the formidable obstacles that remain in the form of North Korea's nuclear program, the project has contributed to shaping how North Korea's neighbors and the United States approach the North Korean nuclear challenge.

First, there has been a slow but steady harmonization of language, thinking, and policy especially among the United States, South Korea, and Japan—and to a lesser extent with China and Russia. Although the Track 2 dialogue is not solely responsible for what has occurred, it has facilitated and hastened its development. As a result, we are arguably in a better position today than we were in 1994 when North Korea threatened to defuel its reactor, when signaling was more erratic, and regional support for possible U.S. action was largely unknown. This is not only because policy groups from such countries meet to exchange ideas, develop terminology, and deepen mutual understanding, but also because the individuals get to know each other personally, maintain contact between meetings, become visiting fellows at each other's institutions, and collaborate on joint projects. They also become primary sources for information and analysis to media outlets in their respective countries, further shaping public opinion.

Related to this point, there is greater consistency and a higher level of sophistication among policy makers in many of these countries as they move in and out of government positions because they participate in Track 2 dialogues at various stages in their careers. Our November 2008 U.S.-ROK meeting that brought together senior policy makers and outside experts (Track 1.5) helped to bridge the political transitions in Korea and the United States. IFPA has played a unique role in promoting high-level bilateral, interagency dialogue about the future of the Korean armistice and other security issues in and around the Korean peninsula.

Second, this Track 2 network is useful at a time of crisis in relations with North Korea. It facilitates communication with a level of candor and speed difficult to replicate at the Track 1 official level, especially at times when ambassadorial and other high-level appointments remain to be made. Moreover, Track 1 channels can become overly staged, bureaucratized, and consequently rigid and less useful for discussion and rapid coordination of policy options. The less formal Track 2 is especially important in light of such difficulties that may be impossible to avoid in the official Track 1 process. Track 2 channels become important as a basis for introducing and testing new ideas without necessarily presenting them as official policy positions. Track 2 also provides a forum for coordinating policy and reviewing diplomatic options among the United States and its partners.

The IFPA-led international team includes representatives from the United States, South Korea, and China, together with participation from Japan and Russia. IFPA's institutional partners are the Yonsei Institute for Korean Unification Studies at Yonsei University (Korea), the East Asia Foundation (United States), and the Shanghai Institute for International Studies (China).

This three-year project began in 2008, with coordinated research and analysis of past attempts at Korean peace regime building, as well as other historical examples such as those related to Germany, Yemen, and Vietnam. Initial findings and concepts are scheduled to be shared with North Korea in a four-party consultation including representatives from the United States, South Korea, Japan, and China. Our goal is to find as much common ground as possible and build a vibrant Track 2 network in Northeast Asia dealing with Korean peninsula security issues.

Central issues being addressed include:

  1. The appropriate form or legal measures of armistice replacement
  2. The roles to be played by the non-Korean parties to a new agreement (the United States, China, and the UN)
  3. Mutual reduction and redeployment of forces (including de-mining the DMZ and the future status of the UN command system)
  4. The relationship between inter-Korean talks and peace regime talks involving other nations; border control issues (including the movement of people, money, and goods), among other issues.

Along with these factors, we are considering the overarching issue of the relationship of denuclearization to peace regime implementation, including sequencing, verification, and dispute resolution.