North Korean diplomats talking to South Korean officials in the demilitarized border zone between the two countries reportedly offered to remove the North’s long-range artillery guns, which have been a dagger pointed at Seoul’s throat for decades.
Before North Korea tested its first nuclear weapon, before it even built its first facility to create fissile material, its artillery had established a strong deterrent against South Korea and the US.
North Korea is estimated to have thousands of massive artillery guns hidden in hardened shelters among the hills and mountains of the country’s rugged terrain. Artillery batteries located within range of the South Korean capital of Seoul could kill tens of thousands of people every hour if war were to break out.
Accounts in South Korean media differ over who exactly proposed the latest measure, but it came at a general-level military dialogue, which hadn’t happened for over a decade before.
The two nations, still technically at war after signing an armistice in the 1950s, met under the banner of “practically eliminate the danger of war,” as South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un agreed to do on April 27, 2018, during their historic first summit.
Not nuclear, but not nothing
North Korea’s artillery guns have little to do with its nuclear weapons program, the elimination of which is the stated purpose of all recent North Korean diplomacy.
But the guns represent a substantial part of North Korea’s threat to Seoul, perhaps acting as the main deterrent holding off a US or South Korean invasion during the multidecade military standoff.
Precisely because the artillery is so formidable, expect to see North Korea ask for something in return. Kim could ask for a withdrawal of or a reduction in US forces in South Korea — a longstanding goal in Pyongyang. Roughly 28,000 US troops are stationed in South Korea as a deterrent.
Experts assess that any steps made to wither the US-South Korean alliance could precipitate the decline of the US as a power in Asia and then the world.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.