MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Here is something to keep in mind as President Trump meets with Kim Jong Un this week. The Korean War is not over - not officially. An armistice was signed in 1953. But it was a military cease fire, not a political or diplomatic treaty ending the conflict. So what exactly does peace on the Korean Peninsula mean? And what steps need to be taken by all parties to finally achieve it? Jeong-Ho Roh has contemplated these questions for years. He's the director of the Center for Korean Legal Studies at Columbia University and formerly worked as an adviser to South Korea's ministry of national unification.
Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.
JEONG-HO ROH: Glad to be here.
KELLY: Why was the Korean War never officially ended? Why has it been all these decades?
ROH: Essentially, the problem with the Korean War is just that, as you mentioned, it ended with the armistice, which is really a military agreement. And the condition behind a military agreement is that a formal political agreement must follow to replace it. And what happened was, after the end of the war, they attempted to do this in Geneva several times. But because of the longstanding differences between North Korea, United States and, in this case, South Korea, that political agreement never came to fruition. And essentially, that process that started in 1954 - one year after - continued for 65 years.
KELLY: We are seeing indications that President Trump and Kim Jong Un may be preparing to make some kind of peace declaration in Hanoi, which prompts a number of questions. To start with, can Trump and Kim Jong Un just declare the Korean War is over? I assume South Korea and China and other parties would have a say here, too.
ROH: It's a tricky question because, essentially, a peace declaration is obviously very different than a peace treaty - for three reasons. A peace declaration is really a statement that, you know, we are going to end hostile relations that have existed between belligerent parties - as opposed to a peace treaty, which would actually legally and formally end the Korean War. And second thing is a peace declaration in itself is not binding; it's a political declaration. And finally - this is, I think, an important point that you alluded to - a peace declaration would really be purely a bilateral statement between North Korea and United States, whereas in the case of a peace treaty, because of the different parties involved, this would necessitate a multilateral treaty - basically meaning China, South Korea, North Korea and the United States. So it's two very, very different things with different intended purposes.
KELLY: The basic arguments for and against some sort of peace agreement emerging from this summit - how would you lay those out?
ROH: Well, the argument for a peace declaration is that it furthers the goal of creating goodwill between North Korea and the United States - that, in fact, what you're doing is, by declaring that there is a peace, in fact, there is a peace. And hopefully, North Korea and the United States will work within that definition.
KELLY: Right. There's a commonsense element here.
ROH: Right. As opposed to - the other element - so once you have declared peace, then it raises into question - you know, what are the options that are available for the United States if North Korea does not comply?
KELLY: You mean in terms of leverage?
ROH: In terms of leverage. It kind of also weakens the justification that the United States will have for keeping its armed forces - soldiers - in South Korea.
KELLY: You're referring to something like 28,000 U.S. troops that remain in South Korea.
ROH: Exactly. If there is a peace declaration and you kind of declare the end of a war, I wonder whether the North Koreans would not demand that, well, since we're in a state of peace, the Americans should withdraw from South Korea. Now, having said that, I'm not sure that declaring peace or having a peace declaration really changes the matrix to a significant degree that it's worthwhile.
KELLY: When you say it doesn't really change the matrix, what do you mean - that it's, in a way, almost a sideshow to the nuclear issue, which is the main ring?
ROH: Yes. I mean, it gives what the North Koreans want. But then if North Korea really does not comply at the end of the day, we have not really changed anything in terms of denuclearizing North Korea. So therefore, other than the symbolic statement that you're making, I'm not sure that it really makes a difference.
KELLY: Jeong-Ho Roh, he is director of the Center for Korean Legal Studies at Columbia Law School in New York. Thank you.
ROH: All right. Thank you.