How Congress can advance peace with North Korea

How Congress can advance peace with North Korea
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Although the U.S. Special Envoy to North Korea, Sung Kim, declared that the Biden administration is willing to meet “anywhere, anytime without preconditions,” Pyongyang’s response was tepid. Kim Yo-jong, Kim Jong-unKim Jong UnSatellite photos indicate North Korea expanding uranium enrichment The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - What do Manchin and Sinema want? North Korea says recent missiles were test of 'railway-borne' system MORE’s sister, sharply criticized the Biden administration for believing that North Korea was ready to dialogue, and that such an “expectation … would plunge them into greater disappointment.”

While recognizing that past approaches have failed and committing to honoring the Singapore Agreement, the Biden administration appears to be continuing the failed approach of past administrations to force North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons using pressure-based tactics. For example, the U.S. held provocative joint military exercises with South Korea this past spring, and Biden signed an executive order upholding sanctions against North Korea.

But achieving the end goal of denuclearization requires addressing mutual security concerns through a peace-first approach. As the Korea Peace Now! campaign outlined in its Path to Peace report, the unresolved state of war is the root cause of tensions and militarism in Korea, so ending the Korean War with a peace agreement must come at the beginning — not the end — of the process.

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That’s where Congress comes in. Congress has an important role to play in building the momentum for a peace agreement. Not only can members of Congress apply pressure on the Biden administration, they may ultimately have to ratify a peace agreement.

In the last Congress, Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaEquilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by The American Petroleum Institute — Dems demand accounting from Big Oil Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Emissions heading toward pre-pandemic levels Democrats call for oil company executives to testify on disinformation campaign MORE (D-Calif.) introduced H.Res.152 calling for an end to the Korean War and a peace agreement, which garnered 52 co-sponsors, including a Republican. In the new Congress, Rep. Brad ShermanBradley (Brad) James ShermanOvernight Defense & National Security — Congress begins Afghanistan grilling US says about 1,500 citizens remain in Afghanistan How Congress can advance peace with North Korea MORE (D-Calif.), a national security Democrat who serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has introduced H.R.3446, the Peace on the Korean Peninsula Act, which calls for “serious, urgent, diplomatic engagement in pursuit of a binding peace agreement constituting a formal end to the Korean War.” H.R.3446 also calls for establishing liaison offices and lifting the ban on Americans traveling to North Korea. 

In addition to Sherman’s bill, hundreds of grassroots activists will urge members of Congress this week to co-sponsor the Enhancing North Korea Humanitarian Assistance Act, H.R.1504/S.690According to the UN Resident Coordinator for the DPRK, more than 10 million North Koreans are in urgent need of food assistance, nutrition support and improved access to basic services such as healthcare, clean water, sanitation and hygiene.

This situation is being exacerbated by COVID-19 — a pandemic of global inequality. North Korea can hardly be blamed for deciding to close their borders given the fragility of their health care system, which is made more vulnerable by sanctions. When the country reopens, humanitarian aid organizations will need to swiftly move to address multiple crises resulting from the pandemic. Sanctions and travel restrictions should not delay the delivery of vaccinations. The Enhancing North Korea Humanitarian Assistance Act calls for expediting the provision of humanitarian assistance so that life-saving medical care can reach the people who need it most.

Finally, grassroots activists are urging members to co-sponsor H.R.826, the Divided Families Reunification Act, to facilitate the reunion of Korean Americans and their families in North Korea. The fact that mothers and fathers, siblings, aunts and uncles, as well as others have been separated from each other for more than seven decades is one of the most tragic consequences of this unresolved war.

Seventy years is enough. We must end the Korean War because the status quo means more weapons, violence and separation. This doesn’t just impact Koreans but Americans, too. After all, the Korean War inaugurated the U.S. military industrial complex, quadrupled U.S. defense spending and set forth the U.S. as the world’s military police. Ending this longest U.S. war can help reverse America’s long march of militarization, remove the risk of a potentially catastrophic nuclear war and neutralize the great power competition between the U.S. and China. Peace is the only way forward, and with Congress advancing a new U.S. policy on Korea, we may finally see an end to the 71-year Korean War.

Christine Ahn is a peace activist, foreign policy analyst and executive director of Women Cross DMZ. Follow her on Twitter: @christineahn.