The Korean Armistice Agreement is the armistice which ended the Korean War. It was signed by U.S. Army Lieutenant General William Harrison, Jr. representing the United Nations Command (UNC), North Korean General Nam Il representing the North Korean People's Army, and the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army. The armistice was signed on July 27, 1953, and was designed to "insure a complete cessation of hostilities and of all acts of armed force in Korea until a final peaceful settlement is achieved." No "final peaceful settlement" has been achieved yet. The signed armistice established the Korean Demilitarized Zone (de facto a new border between the two nations), put into force a cease-fire, and finalized repatriation of prisoners of war. The Demilitarized Zone runs not far from the 38th parallel which separated Northern and Southern Koreas before the war.
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By mid-December 1950 the United States was already discussing terms for an agreement to end the Korean War. The desired agreement would end the fighting, provide assurances against its resumption, and protect the future security of UNC forces. The United States decided that there needed to be a military armistice commission of mixed membership that would supervise all agreements. Both sides would need to agree to “cease the introduction into Korea of any reinforcing air, ground or naval units or personnel... and to refrain from increasing the level of war equipment and material existing in Korea.” The U.S. also desired to make a demilitarized zone that would be roughly 20 miles wide. The agreement would address the issue of prisoners of war of which the U.S. believed that they should be exchanged on a one-for-one basis.
While talks of a possible armistice agreement were circulating, in late May and early June 1951, the President of the Republic of Korea (ROK, South Korea), Syngman Rhee opposed peace talks. He believed the ROK should continue to expand its army in order to march all the way to the Yalu River and completely unify the nation. The UNC did not endorse Rhee’s position. Even without UNC support, Rhee and the South Korean government launched a massive effort to mobilize the public to resist any halt in the fighting short of the Yalu River. Other ROK officials supported Rhee’s ambitions and the National Assembly of South Korea unanimously passed a resolution endorsing a continued fight for an “independent and unified country.” At the end of June however, the Assembly decided to support armistice talks.
Like Syngman Rhee, North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung also sought complete unification. The North Korean side was slow to support armistice talks and only on June 27, 1951, 17 days after armistice talks began, did it change its slogan of “drive the enemy into the sea” to “drive the enemy to the 38th parallel.” North Korea was pressured to support armistice talks by allies China and the Soviet Union, whose support enabled North Korea to continue fighting.
Talks over the armistice agreement started on July 10, 1951, in the city Kaesŏng, a city occupied by North Korea in North Hwanghae Province near the South Korean border. The primary negotiators were General Nam Il, a North Korean Deputy Premier and Chief of Army Staff, and Vice Admiral Charles Turner Joy, an American. After a period of two weeks, on June 26, 1951, a five-part agenda was agreed upon. This agenda guided talks until the signing of the armistice on July 27, 1953. The agenda was:
- Adoption of agenda.
- Fixing a military demarcation line between both sides so as to establish a demilitarized zone as a basic condition for a cessation of hostilities in Korea.
- Concrete arrangements for the realization of cease fire and armistice in Korea, including the composition, authority and functions of a supervision organization for carrying out the terms of a cease-fire and armistice.
- Arrangements relating to prisoners of war.
- Recommendations to the governments of the countries concerned on both sides.
After the agenda was decided talks proceeded slowly, with off and on again discussions. The longest gap between discussions started on August 23, 1951. On that day, during the morning before sunrise, North Korea and its allies claimed that the conference site in Kaesŏng had been bombed. North Korea sought for the UNC to conduct an immediate investigation, which concluded that there was evidence that a UNC aircraft had indeed attacked the conference site. The evidence, however, appeared to be manufactured. The Communists subsequently refused to permit an investigation during daylight hours.
Armistice talks did not start again until October 25, 1951. The U.S. would not allow further discussion to take place in Kaesŏng. Panmunjom, located in Kyŏnggi Province bordering North and South Korea, was agreed upon by both powers as the new location for peace agreement discussions on the condition that both sides took responsibility for its protection.
Discussions continued slowly because of difficulties regarding the location of the border between North and South Korea. China and North Korea believed and expected the line to remain at the 38th parallel. Within weeks however, both nations accepted the Kansas Line, the place where the two sides actually confronted each other at the time.
The decision of what to do with the prisoners of war repatriation was also an issue during negotiations. The Communists held 10,000 POWs and the UNC held 150,000 POWs. The People’s Volunteer Army (PVA), Korean People’s Army (KPA), and the UNC could not agree on a system of repatriation because many PVA and KPA soldiers refused to be repatriated back to the north, which was unacceptable to the Chinese and North Koreans. In the final armistice agreement, a Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission was set up to handle the matter. The agreement provided for monitoring by an international commission. The Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (NNSC) was established to prevent reinforcements being brought into Korea, either additional military personnel or new weapons, and its member inspection teams from Czechoslovakia, Poland, Sweden and Switzerland operated throghout Korea.
On July 19, 1953, delegates reached agreement over all issues regarding the armistice. On July 27, 1953, at 10:00 a.m. the armistice was signed by Nam Il, delegate of the Koreans People’s Army and the Chinese People’s Volunteers, and William K. Harrison Jr., UNC delegate. Twelve hours after the signing of the document, all agreed upon regulations came into effect.
The signed armistice established a “complete cessation of all hostilities in Korea by all armed force” that was to be enforced by the commanders of both sides. Essentially a complete cease-fire was put into force. The armistice is however only a cease-fire between military forces, rather than an agreement between governments. No peace treaty was signed which means that the Korean War has not officially ended.
The armistice also established the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). The DMZ was decided to be a 2.5-mile (4.0 km)-wide fortified buffer zone between the two Korean nations. The Demilitarized Zone follows the Kansas Line where the two sides actually confronted each other at the time of the signed armistice. The DMZ is currently the most heavily defended national border in the world.
The Armistice also established regulations regarding prisoners of war. The agreement stated that “Within sixty (60) days after this agreement becomes effective each side shall, without offering any hindrance, directly repatriate and hand over in groups all those prisoners of war in its custody who insist on repatriation to the side to which they belonged at the time of capture.” Ultimately, more than 22,000 North Korean or Chinese soldiers refused repatriation. On the opposite side, 327 South Korean soldiers, 21 American soldiers and 1 British soldier also refused repatriation, and remained in North Korea or in China. (See: List of American and British defectors in the Korean War.)
In addition to the established regulations listed above, the armistice also gave recommendation to the “governments of the countries concerned on both sides that, within three (3) months after the Armistice Agreement is signed and becomes effective, a political conference of a higher level of both sides be held by representatives appointed respectively to settle through negotiation the questions of the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Korea, the peaceful settlement of the Korean question, etc.” Even in 2013, 60 years after the signing of the armistice agreement, these issues have not been settled as a peaceful settlement of the Korean question has not been solved and American troops still reside in South Korea.
After the armistice was signed the war is considered to have ended even though there was no official peace treaty. Despite the three-year war, the Korean peninsula greatly resembled what it did before the war with national borders at similar locations. The U.S. views the war as a tie while North Korea and China both claim that they won the Korean War.
United States abrogation of paragraph 13(d)
Paragraph 13(d) of the Armistice Agreement mandated that both sides should not introduce new weapons into Korea, other than the piece-for-piece replacement of damaged or worn out equipment. In September 1956 the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Radford indicated within the U.S. government that the U.S. military intention was to introduce atomic weapons into Korea, which was agreed to by the U.S. National Security Council and President Eisenhower. However paragraph 13(d) prevented the introduction of nuclear weapons and missiles. The U.S. decided to unilaterally abrogate paragraph 13(d), breaking the Armistice Agreement, despite concerns by United Nations allies. At a meeting of the Military Armistice Commission on June 21, 1957, the U.S. informed the North Korean representatives that the UNC no longer considered itself bound by paragraph 13(d) of the armistice. In January 1958 nuclear armed Honest John missiles and 280mm atomic cannons were deployed to South Korea, a year later adding nuclear armed Matador cruise missiles with the range to reach China and the Soviet Union.
The U.S. believed that North Korea had introduced new weapons contrary to 13(d), but did not make public specific allegations. North Korea also believed the U.S. had introduced new weapons earlier, citing Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission inspection team reports for August 1953 to April 1954.
North Korea denounced the abrogation of paragraph 13(d) as an attempt to wreck the armistice agreement and turn Korea into a U.S. atomic warfare zone. North Korea responded militarily by digging massive underground fortifications resistant to nuclear attack, and forward deployment of its conventional forces so that the use of nuclear weapons against it would endanger South Korean and U.S. forces as well. In 1963 North Korea asked the Soviet Union and China for help in developing nuclear weapons, but was refused.
Following the abrogation of paragraph 13(d), the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (NNSC) largely lost its function, and became primarily office based in the DMZ with a small staff.
United Nations statements
In October 1996, the U.N. Security Council, by a statement of the President of the Council, urged that the Armistice Agreement should be fully observed until replaced by a new peace mechanism. Approval including the United States and China, two of the armistice's signatories, effectively refuting any suggestion that the armistice was no longer in force.
North Korean announcements to withdraw from the armistice agreement
On April 28, 1994, North Korea announced that it would cease participating in the Military Armistice Commission, but would continue contact at Panmunjom through liaison officers and maintain the general conditions of the armistice. North Korea stated that it regarded the U.S. deployment of Patriot missiles in South Korea as terminating the armistice.
On May 27, 2009, North Korea announced that it no longer felt bound by the armistice agreement. There were two isolated violent incidents in 2010, the ROKS Cheonan sinking (cause disputed, but suspected to be a North Korean submarine attack) and the North Korean Bombardment of Yeonpyeong. In 2013 North Korea argued that the armistice was meant to be a transitional measure. North Korea had made a number of proposals for replacing it with a peace treaty, but the U.S. had not responded in a serious way. It further argued that the Military Armistice Commission and Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission had long been effectively dismantled, paralysing the supervisory functions of the armistice. North Korea believes that the annual U.S. and South Korean exercises Key Resolve and Foal Eagle are provocative and threaten North Korea with nuclear weapons. JoongAng Ilbo reported that U.S. vessels equipped with nuclear weapons were participating in the exercise, and The Pentagon publicly announced that B-52 bombers flown over South Korea were reaffirming the U.S. "nuclear umbrella" for South Korea.
In March 2013, North Korea announced that it was scrapping all non-aggression pacts with South Korea, along with other escalations such as closing the border and closing the direct phone line between the two Koreas. North Korea stated that it had the right to make a preemptive nuclear attack. A United Nations spokesman stated that the armistice agreement had been adopted by the U.N. General Assembly, and could not be unilaterally dissolved by either North Korea or South Korea. On March 28, 2013, the U.S. sent two B-2 Spirit stealth bombers to South Korea to participate in ongoing military exercises in the region, including the dropping of inert munitions on a South Korean bomb range. This was the first B-2 nonstop, round-trip mission to Korea from the United States. Following this mission, North Korean state media announced that it was readying rockets to be on standby to attack U.S. targets.
The U.S. position, as expressed in 2010, is that a peace treaty can only be negotiated when North Korea "takes irreversible steps toward denuclearization".
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