In a sense, Donald Trump’s campaign to denuclearize North Korea is bearing fruit: The Korean War is beginning to end. Seoul and Pyongyang have been dismantling guard posts, designating no-fly zones, and disarming what was once the most volatile place on the peninsula. Indeed, by the estimation of the South Korean newspaper Hankyoreh, North and South Korea have already fully implemented about one third of the more than two dozen reconciliation agreements they reached in a pair of summits between the nations’ leaders in April and September.
The Koreas have suspended certain military exercises near the military demarcation line (MDL) separating the countries, cleared hundreds of land mines in the area (millions remain), and linked a road as part of an effort to excavate the remains of soldiers who died during the Korean War. They have covered up coastal artillery and warship-mounted guns and established a no-fly zone in the vicinity of the border. They are now exploring ways to jointly secure the iconic border village of Panmunjom and allow unarmed guards, civilians, and foreign tourists to move about on either side of the MDL there for the first time in more than 40 years.
While it’s hard to overstate what’s at stake in these seemingly minor developments, several of the meatiest measures require U.S. consent and are on hold. North and South Korea, for example, can’t collaborate on economic and tourism projects or actually get inter-Korean roads and railways up and running until international sanctions against North Korea are eased. They’ve also encountered resistance in calling for the leaders of the two Koreas, the United States, and perhaps China to formally declare an end to the Korean War, which came to a halt in an armistice in 1953.
But where Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in have freer rein and have arguably made the greatest advances is in enacting various accords to cease military hostilities between their countries. The progress, though still modest and tentative, is all the more remarkable given the comparatively sluggish pace at the moment of nuclear negotiations between the United States and North Korea.