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Anniversary of the Korean War Armistice

Thursday 12 July, 2018

The Korean War began on 25 June 1950 when North Korean forces invaded South Korea.

US intervention turned the tide of the war, and soon the US and South Korean forces were pushing into North Korea and toward that nation’s border with China. In retaliation hundreds of thousands of troops from the People’s Republic of China began heavy assaults against the American and South Korea forces in November and December 1951.

The war eventually bogging down into a battle of attrition.

While the war has never officially ended, an Armistice was signed on 27 July 1953.

It was, in the end, the longest negotiated armistice in history.  Beginning on 10 July 1951, in Kaesong, North Korea, near the South Korean border, comprising of 158 meetings over a period of two years and 17 days.

The Korean Armistice Agreement is a unique document in that it is purely a military document – no nation is a signatory to the agreement.

The two primary negotiators were the North Korean Deputy Premier and Chief of Army Staff General Nam Il, and United States Vice Admiral Charles Turner Joy. After a period of two weeks, on June 26, 1951, a five-part agenda was agreed upon that guided talks until the signing of the Armistice on July 27, 1953. The items to be discussed were:

  1. Adoption of an agenda.
  2. Fixing a military demarcation line between the two sides so as to establish a demilitarized zone as a basic condition for the cessation of hostilities in Korea.
  3. Concrete arrangements for realization of a ceasefire and armistice in Korea, including the composition, authority and functions of a supervisory organization for carrying out the terms of a truce and armistice.
  4. Arrangements relating to prisoners of war.
  5. Recommendations to the governments of the countries concerned on both sides.

Talks proceeded slowly with lengthy intervals between meetings, the longest being between 23 August and 25 October 1951 when North Korea and its Allies claimed that the conference site had been bombed.  No further discussions took place in Kaesong, negotiations were relocated to Panmunjom, a village close to both North and South Korea.

In the US Presidential election of 1952, Republican candidate Dwight D. Eisenhower strongly criticized President Truman’s handling of the war. After his victory, Eisenhower adhered to his promise to “go to Korea.” His trip convinced him that something new was needed to break the diplomatic logjam at the peace talks.  Eisenhower began to publicly hint that the US might make use of its nuclear arsenal to break the military stalemate in Korea. The President also put pressure on his South Korean ally to drop some of its demands in order to speed the peace process.

Whether or not Eisenhower’s threats of nuclear attacks helped, by July 1953 all sides involved in the conflict were ready to sign an agreement ending the bloodshed. The Armistice established a committee of representatives from neutral countries to decide the fate of the thousands of prisoners of war (POW) on both sides. It was eventually decided that the POWs could choose their own fate–stay where they were or return to their homelands.

The armistice was not a permanent peace treaty between nations. It was only ever intended as a temporary measure – a ceasefire effectively.

Specifically, the Armistice Agreement:

  • suspended open hostilities;
  • withdrew all military forces and equipment from a 4-kilometre-wide zone, establishing the Demilitarized Zone as a buffer between the forces;
  • prevented both sides from entering the air, ground or sea areas under the control of the other;
  • arranged release and repatriation of prisoners of war and displaced persons; and
  • established the Military Armistice Commission (MAC) and other agencies to discuss any violations and to ensure adherence to the truce terms.

The war cost the lives of millions of Koreans and Chinese, as well as over 50,000 Americans. It had been a frustrating war for the US, who were used to forcing the unconditional surrender of its enemies.

Decades on, the truce is still all that technically prevents North Korea and the US – along with its ally South Korea – resuming the war, as no peace treaty has ever been signed.

Both sides regularly accuse the other of violating the agreement, but the accusations have become more frequent as tensions rise over North Korea’s nuclear program.

The document, signed by US Lt Gen William K Harrison and his counterpart from the North’s army, General Nam Il, said it was aimed at a ceasefire “until a final peaceful settlement is achieved”.

However that settlement never came, and a conference in Geneva in 1954 which was designed to thrash out a formal peace accord ended without agreement.



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