Some of the first steps are being taken by Seoul and Pyongyang to achieve the goals of a military reduction treaty signed in Pyongyang in September. The governments have agreed to destroy 22 guard posts along their border and remove weapons from the co-managed Joint Security Area at Panmunjom. The move represents a broader shift in inter-Korean relations, showing that both sides acknowledge that the threat level from the other has significantly decreased. Other major future events may include talks to discuss the possibility of opening the estuary of the Han and Imjin rivers in the DMZ to both north and south civilian vessels and the creation of a ‘peace park’ in the DMZ itself.
Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong Un met earlier this year in Pyongyang
As these talks continue to press on, little progress has been publicly announced on the nuclear issue, with talks still seemingly bogged down as neither Washington nor Pyongyang are willing to make the first major concession. This creates a major roadblock for Moon Jae-in’s government as the US and it’s allies in the European Union continue to push for the continuation of the maximum pressure policy, using sanctions to force the DPRK to make significant concessions and fully denuclearise before sanctions can be lifted. Calls for relaxing such sanctions fell on deaf ears during the South Korean President’s trip to Europe, this could hinder any efforts to develop the current detente into full scale economic cooperation, as many plans may be considered illegal under various UNSC sanctions resolutions.
So what’s the next move for the government in Seoul? Well, Moon Jae-in needs to get more international support for his ‘rewarding’ policies before he can make any motion to relax international sanctions. Allies already exist in China and Russia who have reportedly already begun removing some sanctions on the DPRK, however France, the UK and the US are the three members of the UNSC which need to be convinced before any practical resolution can be brought before the security council. Moon Jae-in should be focussing on convincing Washington that improved diplomatic relations are the way to convince Pyongyang to surrender it’s arsenal, until then, he faces major obstacles in building any stable peace regime.