A reconciliation-centered foreign policy

Zachary Murray writes about policy proposals that could help to transform U.S. engagement on the Korean Peninsula

Group photo during a field trip to Chinggis Khaan Statue Complex.

International politics is often framed as adversarial and competitive, dividing countries into allies and enemies, partners and competitors. What would it look like if U.S. policymakers viewed reconciliation, rather than division, as a central ethos in foreign policy? 

On the Korean Peninsula, as well as in the larger Asia-Pacific region, the integration of strategic and economic goals widens the gap between partners and adversaries, making dialogue with North Korea difficult for either the U.S. or South Korea.

Three specific policy proposals could help to transform U.S. engagement on the Korean Peninsula, and in the wider Asia Pacific region.

Expanding sanctions exemptions. Recent changes to the implementation of U.S. sanctions toward North Korea should allow for greater ease for organizations, such as MCC, to engage with partners in North Korea. However, the list of approved humanitarian goods and activities should be expanded further. This would include increased people-to-people engagement which helps to shift attitudes of both North Koreans and U.S. citizens toward one another.

Ending the Korean War. In 1953, the U.S., North Korea, and China declared a ceasefire in the Korean War but, after more than 70 years, there has never been a formal peace treaty. Formally ending the status of war on the Korean Peninsula is a precondition to significant engagement. The Peace on the Korean Peninsula Act (H.R. 1369) calls for a formal agreement to end the Korean War and, recognizing the need to keep diplomatic channels open between the U.S. and North Korea, would establish liaison offices in both capital cities. Entering official peace treaty talks could deescalate tensions on the Peninsula and lead to more opportunities to reunite families and build bridges for greater peace.

Reuniting families. The Divided Families Registration Act (S.3876/ H.R.7152) would expand opportunities for Korean Americans to reunite with family members in North Korea. This legislation would provide the U.S. Department of State with tools to facilitate reunions. Additionally, and more importantly, the bill provides a framework for dialogue between the U.S. and North Korea to implement the reunification process.

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Learn more about policy principles and statistics related to the Korean Peninsula. 

Download Planting seeds of peace (Peace & Justice Journal, Spring/Summer 2024)