North Korea’s phony peace ploy

For North Korea to end its war on the South, and accept the South as a legitimate, coequal government on the peninsula, would mean abandoning the quest that has legitimized the Kim family’s rule for three generations. The decision would call into question why, exactly, North Korea should hold power at all. It would be system-threatening — a mistake on the scale of the string of blunders by President Mikhail S. Gorbachev that doomed the Soviet Union.

And so the North, rather than committing to a legally binding (and potentially destabilizing) peace treaty, is likely to do again what it has gotten away with in previous meetings with the South: dangle aspirational goals in jointly signed, but totally unenforceable, official statements…

The problem is that North Korea can walk away from its peace promises at any time. And when it eventually does, it will be able to blame whomever it wishes for this tragic result — potentially polarizing politics in South Korea, igniting tensions in Seoul’s alliance with Washington or fracturing the loose coalition of governments that rallied around sanctions against it. In the meantime, Pyongyang will hold the other parties hostage to the fear that if any of its new demands aren’t met, it will quit the peace process.