A joint statement by the United States and North Korea in June 2018 declared that the two countries were committed to building “a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.” Such a peace regime will ultimately require the engagement and cooperation of not just North Korea and the United States, but also South Korea, China, Russia, and Japan. This report outlines the perspectives and interests of each of these countries as well as the diplomatic, security, and economic components necessary for a comprehensive peace.

South Korean soldiers, front, and North Korean soldiers, rear, stand guard on either side of the Military Demarcation Line of the Demilitarized Zone dividing the two nations. (Korea Summit Press Pool via New York Times)
South Korean soldiers, front, and North Korean soldiers, rear, stand guard on either side of the Military Demarcation Line of the Demilitarized Zone dividing the two nations. (Korea Summit Press Pool via New York Times)

Summary

Since the end of the Korean War in 1953, few serious efforts have been made to achieve a comprehensive peace on the Korean Peninsula. The unique aspects of the diplomatic engagement between Washington and Pyongyang in 2018 and 2019, however, presented a situation that warranted both greater preparation for a potential peace process and greater vigilance about the potential obstacles and risks. Today, with the collapse of negotiations threatening to further strain US-North Korea relations and increase tensions on the Korean Peninsula, a more earnest and sober discussion about how to build mutual confidence, enhance stability, and strengthen peace is all the more important.

Peace is a process, not an event. A peace regime thus represents a comprehensive framework of declarations, agreements, norms, rules, processes, and institutions aimed at building and sustaining peace.

Six countries—North Korea, South Korea, the United States, China, Japan, and Russia—have substantial interests in a peace regime for the Korean Peninsula. Some of these interests are arguably compatible, including the desire for a stable and nuclear-free Peninsula. Others, such as North Korean human rights and the status of U.S. forces, seem intractable but may present potential for progress. Understanding these interests can shed light on how to approach areas of consensus and divergence during the peacebuilding process.

Certain diplomatic, security, and economic components are necessary for a comprehensive peace on the Korean Peninsula. Denuclearization, sanctions relief, and the U.S. military presence have drawn the most attention, but a peace regime would also need to address other matters—from procedural aspects such as which countries participate and whether a treaty or an executive agreement should be used, to sensitive topics such as human rights, economic assistance, and humanitarian aid, to far-reaching considerations such as the Northern Limit Line, conventional force reductions, and the future of the United Nations Command. This report addresses how U.S. administrations can strategically and realistically approach the challenges and opportunities these issues present, and then offers general principles for incorporating them into a peacebuilding process.

About the Report

This report examines the issues and challenges related to establishing a peace regime—a framework of declarations, agreements, norms, rules, processes, and institutions aimed at building and sustaining peace—on the Korean Peninsula. Supported by the Asia Center at the United States Institute of Peace, the report also addresses how U.S. administrations can strategically and realistically approach these issues.

About the Authors

Frank Aum is senior expert on North Korea in the Asia Center at the U.S. Institute of Peace. Jacob Stokes, Patricia M. Kim, Rachel Vandenbrink, and Jennifer Staats are members of its East and Southeast Asia program teams. Ambassador Joseph Y. Yun is a senior adviser to the Asia Center. Atman M. Trivedi is a managing director at Hills & Company.

Related Publications

Removing Sanctions on North Korea: Challenges and Potential Pathways

Removing Sanctions on North Korea: Challenges and Potential Pathways

Friday, December 10, 2021

By: Troy Stangarone

Sanctions have been a key part of US and international policy toward North Korea since the Korean War. In more recent decades, sanctions have been used to deter North Korea from pursuing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles programs. This report describes the impact sanctions have had on North Korea and examines the question of whether a different approach—one focused on sanctions relief and removal—might better facilitate long-term peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.

Type: Special Report

Conflict Analysis & Prevention

Is an End-of-War Declaration for the Korean Peninsula a Risk Worth Taking?

Is an End-of-War Declaration for the Korean Peninsula a Risk Worth Taking?

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

By: Frank Aum

As efforts to resume nuclear negotiations with Pyongyang go nowhere, the concept of an end-of-war declaration for the Korean Peninsula has become a polarizing topic in both Washington and Seoul. USIP’s Frank Aum explains how it could serve Washington and Seoul’s interests, how such a declaration could advance the peace process between North and South Korea, what risks it could pose and how the U.S. Congress could play a role in shaping such a declaration.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Mediation, Negotiation & Dialogue

Making Sense of North Korea’s Missile Test

Making Sense of North Korea’s Missile Test

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

By: Frank Aum

North Korea announced on September 13 that it had tested long-range cruise missiles over the weekend. It described the missiles as a “strategic weapon of great significance.” The test caused alarm in North Korea’s neighbors — South Korea and Japan, both U.S. allies — as the revelation now puts both countries within striking distance. But despite the test, a spokesperson for the Biden administration said the United States remains prepared to engage with North Korea. USIP’s Frank Aum discusses the significance of the tests, the arms race on the Korean Peninsula, and what signals North Korean leader Kim Jong Un may be sending to the United States with this latest test. 

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Conflict Analysis & PreventionMediation, Negotiation & Dialogue

The Case for Maximizing Engagement with North Korea

The Case for Maximizing Engagement with North Korea

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

By: Frank Aum;  Daniel Jasper

As the Biden administration’s North Korea policy review nears completion, there is growing worry that it could dig in its heels on previous U.S. efforts to change North Korea’s behavior through isolation and pressure. Early signals indicate the Biden team is prioritizing pressure among many options. Several experts, however, believe this approach will continue to fail because it incorrectly assumes North Korea will yield to coercive tactics and that China will cooperate in this effort.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Mediation, Negotiation & DialogueConflict Analysis & Prevention

View All Publications