THE PANMUNJOM DECLARATION: Revamped Korean Sunshine policy and the German Model

by Ashwini Nag

Backdrop of Korean division

After the Japanese empire was dismantled, the Korean Peninsula became important territory in the Cold War. The Peninsula was eventually divided into two nations along the 38th parallel north latitude. The USA controlled the southern sphere and the USSR promoting a communist regime in the northern sphere. The end of the Korean War was marked by the 1953 Armistice Agreement and the establishment of the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). This however, did not assure the families divided by the partition and the continued military tensions accompanied by casualties on both sides have disappointed pro-unification citizens.

In the late 90s, South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung provided for a theoretical, structured and form-and-substance policy to be adopted towards North Korea. Popularly dubbed the Sunshine Policy, the formal title for dealing with an enemy by giving gifts to prevent them from causing harm is “The Reconciliation and Cooperation Policy Towards the North”. While its initial objective was regular interaction and economic assistance, three major principles were eventually laid down to ensure co-existence without war.

The first principle states that no armed provocation by the North will be tolerated, the second that the South will not attempt to absorb the North in any way and the third that the South actively seeks cooperation and promotes reconciliation. What the policy failed to contemplate was that the two-fold obligation placed on North Korea’s administration to alter its national identity would not be well-received. The State did not wish to blur its lines when it came to accepting monetary aid from the South as it relied heavily on the separation of politics and economics; it also did not find kind the requirement of a specific form of reciprocation. After a few years of development and collaboration, military clashes, high numbers of defection and USA-Russia fueled pressure led to the complete wipe out of the Sunshine Policy from the South Korean leadership agenda.

Success of the Contemporary “Moonshine” Policy & the Panmunjom Declaration

The vision of reunification was needed to end the decade long silence on negotiations. The newly elected South Korean President Moon Jae-in very well mirrored his North Korean counterpart. Kim Jongun’s Jong-un’s views on keeping mum about an economic partnership and moved towards achieving security-related diplomacy. The two successfully fielded a united team at the Winter Olympics, reopened the Seoul-Pyongyang hotline and fully restored military communication lines. The 2018 Inter-Korean Summit in the Joint Security Area of the DMZ witnessed the signing of the “Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Reunification of the Korean Peninsula” and a statement to the effect that both countries had officially called it a day on war.

Panmunjom, an old village, now a part of the DMZ holds significance in most peace talks; the 1953 Armistice Agreement that North Korea never ratified or explicitly abided by, was also signed there.

The three main principles

The Declaration’s three main solemn points reflect the Sunshine Policy’s three principles. It put practicality to realistic goals on a reciprocal basis without offending their drastically different values.

The first declaration is to promote common prosperity and reunification of Korea through improvement and development of inter-Korean relations. A Joint Liaison Office and reuniting separated families were the chosen means. This is in line with the third principle that promoted cooperation and reconciliation. The second declaration is to eliminate military tension and war risk by designating peace zones and mutual measures. This is the application of the policy’s theoretical first principle- that no armed provocation by the North will be tolerated. The third declaration is to establish a permanent and peaceful Korean Peninsula peace regime by step wise disarmament and finalizing a complete denuclearization of the peninsula. This is the equivalent of the second principle holding that the South will not attempt to absorb the North. President Moon also vowed to realize the unification of Korea by 2045.

Challenges to Korean Reunification: An Analysis based on the German Model

The most infamous reunification in the modern era following World War II was the reunification of East Germany. Former governed by a Marxist-Leninist political party and West Germany, governed by the Christian Democratic Union. The former’s dissolution was the result of the “Peaceful Revolution” (Die Wende) in 1989. It sought socio – political change like opening of borders, withdrawal of Soviet forces and the adoption of a parliamentary system.

Free election

The first phase was East Germany holding free elections after the conclusion of the Central Round Table meetings. A win for the coalition of parties supporting German reunification cemented the same. For a non-violent movement without foreign interference to take place in North Korea, freedom of speech for pro-unification activists has to be provided to ensure the end result of the abolition of the hereditary leadership and organizing of referendum.

Economic merger

The second phase in the German model involved an emergency economic merger, the signing of a treaty for economic union (“Treaty Establishing a Monetary, Economic and Social Union Between the German Democratic Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany”) and consequentially, the West German Deutsche Mark replacing the East German mark, reciprocal transfer of financial sovereignty and subsidies and West German laws coming into force in the East in an attempt to bridge the gap between the socio-economic conditions. For a similar treaty to be signed by North Korea, a state that cherishes its communist identity above all will require negotiations assuring a grant of any form of financial aid as the first step taken by South Korea.

Constitutional Coalescence

The third phase involved a series of steps taken by East Germany- its Parliament passing a resolution declaring the accession of the nation to West Germany, allowing the application of West Germany’s Basic Law (informal Constitution) to its territory and the reunification initiated as a unilateral effect of utilizing Article 23. More significantly, the “German Reunification Treaty” was signed by the two states and approved by majorities in each legislature; essentially, East Germany legislated its own abolition. This might not be a plausible reality for the Koreas in a time period where both have a top-notch defence and economic security; the North’s 687 member Parliament (Supreme People’s Assembly) and the South’s 300 member National Assembly may not even reach a majority number for such a resolution.

Formal Union

The fourth phase undertaken by West Germany after the treaty was signed was to decide the provision of Basic Law that would easily allow a formal union without further drawn-out negotiations. Article 146 laid down a mechanism to create a new, permanent constitution for a unified Germany as a legally created third state. On the other hand, Article 23 permitted reunification in under 6 months and the Basic Law was extended to include the five states of East Germany after its dissolution.

Therefore, while the West absorbed the East, technically, the latter’s constituent states entered the former as separate states under a federal structure. The legal personality of West Germany remained as it had been, including its membership in international organizations. Similarly, the foremost yet penultimate question that would arise before the Korean peninsula is whether the unification should result in a new state or if it should be achieved by the accession of one by the other. Article 4 of the South Korean Constitution seeks peaceful unification through policies based on the principles of freedom and democracy; only the Preamble of the North Korean Constitution mentions reunification.

International treaties

The fifth and final phase of the German unification was affected by the ratification of the Two Plus Four Agreement (“Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany”). France, USSR, UK and USA were parties to the treaty and renounced all rights held in Germany. This permitted Germany to become a full united sovereign country. However, Germany had to agree to several conditions, such as accepting its existing border with Poland. Renunciation of any other territorial claims, affirming the application of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, avowing to not deploy nuclear weapons, amending its Basic Law to prohibit any other claims for incorporation into German territory and limit the number of personnel it could station in its military were among other conditions.

For a Korean unification to take place, the global community may demand the denuclearization of the peninsula. This is important particularly when skeptics remain wary of the threat posed by the North’s resources. Furthermore, both North and South Korea may have to sign away several strengths to reach an effective reunification.


The path forward for South Korea’s reunification vision to be transformed into a possibility is dependent on two elements- firstly, the continuation of the revamped Sunshine Policy through open communication and secondly, the emergence of a grassroots revolution in North Korea that has potential to influence the senior leadership’s ideology, despite a generation gap. Since both nations remain resolute on a peaceful process, straightforward dialogue and decisive action may guide the Korean peninsula to become one in the decades to come; the impression created is that the entire world is waiting to watch.

Views are personal.

Image Credits: Quartz


Ashwini Nag is currently pursuing B.A. LLB. (hons.) from Symbiosis Law School, Pune.

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