Pro-Diplomacy, Pro-Peace Principles to Guide Presidential Campaigns on North Korea

This memo contains principles to guide presidential campaigns as they formulate pro-peace, pro-diplomacy policy on North Korea. Download this as a PDF here.

The current moment: Recent U.S.-North Korea relations have ranged from intense military tensions in 2017 to highly publicized summits in 2018. Looking forward to 2020 and beyond, the focus turns to the hard work of sustained diplomacy.

The first summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean Chairman Kim Jong Un in Singapore resulted in a joint declaration that constructively called for new relations based on peace, the establishment of a peace regime, and the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. But actually achieving those goals will require specific, concrete next steps.

The next administration will have to pick up where this one leaves off, and will have an urgent responsibility to make progress with North Korea. Make no mistake: the failure to find diplomatic solutions could result in an escalation (intentional or accidental) that triggers a full-scale — potentially nuclear — war, endangering us all.

With this in mind, the undersigned organizations urge all presidential candidates to embrace the following principles as they formulate policy on North Korea:

Agree to step-by-step, reciprocal, verifiable actions to advance denuclearization and peace. “All or nothing” demands are a recipe for failure. In other words, the United States cannot realistically expect North Korea to unilaterally disarm before providing any sanctions relief, security guarantees, or other incentives. The two sides should build trust and work jointly toward shared goals.

Build confidence and reduce tensions. There are many interim steps that the United States and North Korea can take to shore up the potential for successful peace and denuclearization. These steps include, but are not limited to:

End the Korean War. Even though active hostilities between the United States and North Korea ended 66 years ago with an Armistice Agreement, there was never a formal end of the war with a peace agreement. This continued state of war is not a mere technicality — it’s the root cause of militarism and tensions that must be resolved if there is to be real progress with North Korea. Formally ending the Korean War is the most effective trust-building mechanism available. It costs zero dollars, removes North Korea’s stated justification for nuclear weapons, and does not undermine the U.S.-South Korea alliance. This is an essential element of the next administration’s success on the Korean Peninsula.

Support our ally South Korea: South Korean President Moon Jae-In has used the mandate from the South Korean people who elected him in 2017 to conduct diplomacy that lays the foundation for new relations with North Korea. His meeting with Kim Jong Un in April 2018 produced the Panmunjom Declaration, which calls for, among other things, inter-Korean economic and civic projects, and replacing the Armistice Agreement with a peace agreement. The United States should stop impeding inter-Korean cooperation, and should instead support the South Korean government in working toward these goals.

Make the negotiating table more inclusive. It is imperative that those impacted by current policies have a seat at the table. Including the views and recommendations of women, youth, and other members of civil society will improve the chances that a peace agreement lasts longer and is more durable.

Reject the framing that diplomacy is a gift to North Korea. Too often, we see public figures suggest that talking to North Korea in some way disproportionately benefits Kim Jong Un. By definition, diplomacy involves talking to, meeting with, and making deals with friends and adversarial actors alike. In this way, talking and negotiating with North Korea should not be viewed differently than doing so with any other authoritarian powers — which the United States does regularly. Additionally, ignoring North Korea will just leave it a hostile and growing nuclear power with acute risk of arms proliferation. The status quo means more nuclear weapons, more human rights violations, more separated families, more suffering from sanctions, and, at worst, nuclear war. It is in everyone’s interest to change course with a concrete plan toward peace and denuclearization.


American Friends Service Committee
About Face: Veterans Against the War
Arms Control Association
Beyond the Bomb
Center for International Policy
Foreign Policy For America
Franciscan Action Network
Institute for Policy Studies, New Internationalism Project
Just Foreign Policy
Nuclear Age Peace Foundation
Peace Action
WAND (Women’s Action for New Directions)
Win Without War
Women Cross DMZ