World Politics

South Korea still needs to counter the 'dangerous' North even if Trump ends the Korean War, experts warn

Key Points
  • Ending the Korean War does not negate the fact that the North "remains as dangerous a threat today as it was on the first day of the Trump administration," said Abraham Denmark, director of the Asia program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
  • On Monday, South Korea's presidential office said that the U.S. and North Korea could agree to declare the end of the Korean War during their summit this week in Vietnam.
North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (R) walks with South Korean President Moon Jae-in (L) in September 2018 in North Korea.
Pyeongyang Press Corps| Pool | Getty Images

There's a possibility that U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un might declare an end to the Korean War at this week's summit — but experts warn that the move could have "real political consequences" for the U.S., and South Korea will still have  to keep the North in check.

Ending the war does not negate the fact that North Korea "remains as dangerous a threat today as it was on the first day of the Trump administration," said Abraham Denmark, director of the Asia program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

South Korea's presidential office said on Monday that the U.S. and North Korea could agree to declare the end of the Korean War when Trump and Kim meet this week for their second face-to face meeting in Vietnam.

Seoul and Pyongyang are technically still at war today.

The Korean War began in 1950 when the North invaded the South. It ended in 1953 with an armistice — not a peace treaty, which means the war has not ended even if fighting has ceased. Since then, the U.S. has maintained a robust military presence in the South, in the form of tens of thousands of troops.

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Declaring an end to the war "may seem like a positive way to signal American goodwill without risk or cost, (but) a closer examination suggests that such a declaration is unlikely to succeed and could have real political consequences for the United States," Denmark wrote in an online post on the think tank's website on Tuesday.

He warned that North Korea has developed a "significant" military capability with the potential to "devastate" American allies and the homeland itself.

North Korean soldiers stare at South Korean soldiers at the truce village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized zone (DMZ) dividing the two Koreas on November 27, 2017.
AFP | Getty Images

"Declaring an end to the Korean War would not change these realities," said Denmark, who added that this is why the U.S. has maintained a strong alliance with South Korea, which includes a military presence ready to defend its allies against North Korea.

South Korea's role

The American public still perceives North Korea as one of the top threats to the U.S, and experts say that a U.S. alliance with South Korea is still needed.

"The public sees the alliance with South Korea both as a desirable means by which to manage the North Korean weapons threat, and as a necessary means of reducing the risk of North Korean aggression against South Korea or against American interests," wrote Scott Snyder, a senior fellow in Korea studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, and Karl Friedhoff, a fellow in Asia policy at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs in a post on Tuesday.

Denmark, too, added that there is a need to maintain a robust U.S. military presence in Korea, Japan and across the Indo-Pacific as long as North Korea represents a threat.

The American people, therefore, would likely only support a reduction but not a complete withdrawal of American troops in South Korea, Snyder and Friedhoff said.

"Coordination with South Korea remains an essential part of any effort to achieve a peace and denuclearization deal with North Korea," they wrote.