Korean War Armistice Agreement

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Korean War Armistice Agreement

On 27 July 1953, North Korea’s General Nam Il and US Lieutenant William K. Harrison signed the 1953 Korean Armistice Agreement to end the three year Korean War. To come upon this agreement, it took about two years of drawn out talks to decide the terms formally. The major issues that hindered the progress of the armistice included; the handling and treatment of prisoners of war, and the location of the demilitarized zone (DMZ). The other countries that were also involved were China, South Korea and the USSR. The actors involved were the Commander in Chief, United Nations Command, the Supreme Commander of Korean People’s Army, and the Commander of the Chinese People’s Volunteers. This agreement was made to end the hostilities in the Korean peninsula, determine the location of the DMZ, and to determine repatriation for North Korean POWs who did not want to go back. This agreement was meant to be a temporary agreement until a formal peace treaty could be made, but it is currently the only settlement that is maintaining the harmony within the peninsula. 1
It is important to note that the Korean War served as a Cold War proxy war between the US and the communist powers of the Soviet Union and the Republic of China. North Korea was seen as an aggressor state in which was trying to take over South Korea and turn it in to a communist regime. In the US, this conflict was considered a police action.2 Thus, the reason for involvement for the US was mainly to stop the communist countries from turning the Korean peninsula under a communist rule when South Korea had different intentions. The US also involved them in this war because President Truman believed that the US had been too soft on Communism. This was the US stand against Communism and all of the policies behind it. The Korean War was the first armed war in the Cold War, and thus created an extended deterrence dilemma. However, at the end of the war, North Korea remained a pro-soviet, communist party while South Korea became a pro-American capitalist nation.

The nature of the strategic interaction between the US and the North Korean was hostile and the belligerents of both sides used threats and force in order to win the war and be able to control all of Korea under a communist regime. Thus, the type of game involved is a coordination game with a conflict of interest. The main goal and payoff is to have a cessation of all hostilities on the Korean Peninsula and try to come up with some type of peaceful arrangement to maintain harmony for both South Korea and North Korea. Thus, the final armistice calls for the cease-fire of all hostile activities, and the withdrawal of military forces on both sides. Both parties agreed to end hostilities, however, the conflict of interest started with the issue of the repatriation of prisoners and the treatment of prisoners in the UN camps. The US’ goal was ultimately to end the war quickly, while North Korea’s intention was to gain as many outposts as possible and regain all of their POWs. After the election of 1952, President Eisenhower revealed that he preferred to have a honorable truce, but stated that if the agreements were not progressing, he would use military force without inhibition and would no longer be responsible for maintaining peace within the Korean Peninsula.

After the failure of the first armistice agreement, the Truman administration declined to run again for office and instead Dwight D. Eisenhower successfully won the election on the promise that he would attempt to end the Korean War quickly if he was elected. He adopted many of the same goals of Truman and attempted to negotiate with the communist countries of North Korea, China, and the Soviet Union.. However, he used more threat of force towards these uncooperative states than Truman in order to quicken the negotiations. However, with the issue of repatriation still unresolved, hostilities on the front line continued in the form of raids and artillery skirmishes that by the end of 1952, still did not change any of the lines. This situation is an example of the “dollar auction game”, in which it is a reiterated game and each state is sinking in their military resources in order to receive their goal or prize. Both states are willing to risk the lives of troops and their resources in order to “stand firm” on their desires over the repatriation issue.
The final armistice agreement took close to two years to agree upon mainly because of the major issue of repatriation of the POWs. In 1951, initial armistice talks were halted over this discord and were heightened when the UN suggested that the prisoners could decide whether or not they wished to return to their home country. According to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, if a prisoner did not want to be repatriated then, they would be “set at liberty”. This infuriated the North Korean delegation and thus the war continued, “The enemy representatives pro" tested vigorously. While argument continued, both sides tacitly extended the November 27 provisions for a line of demarcation. This had the effect of holding battle action to the pattern of the thirty-day waiting period.” In May of 1952, North Korea made a strategic move to compel the UNC to “give in”. The strategy that they used was the “hostage-holding game”. The intent for the North Korean delegation was to “trade the U.S. officer's life and release for UNC admissions of inhumane treatment of captives, including alleged cruelties during previous screenings of prisoners in which a large number of prisoners refused repatriation. The obvious objective was to discredit the voluntary repatriation stand taken by the UNC delegation at Panmunjom.” The UNC, however, did not respond to the demands. Thus, the UNC did not “give in” to the hostage-game demands and strengthened their long-term reputation by their refusal to comply with the North Koreans just because they were threatening to kill one of their soldiers. The UNC response seemed to be that, there are always casualties in war so they were not going to give in.3 In a sense the UNC was trying to save their reputation, and perhaps were trying to avoid what happened in World War II, where it was proven that “appeasing” the enemy causes war instead of preventing it. In this game of chicken, the US and the UN has the entire world watching, and if they give in to these issues of repatriation, then it would affect their long-term reputation.

The UNC called North Korea’s bluff, in that the credibility of their threats were considered questionable. If North Korea killed the prisoner, then they no longer had a bargaining chip, and then they would not receive the North Korean POWs. North Korea was attempting to damage the reputation of the UNC by discrediting the proposal of voluntary repatriation stance that the UNC had stated in Panmunjom. Another strategic move by the Soviet, PRC and North Korea was the creation of propaganda that there was evidence the experimentations of biological weapons by the United States. However, the Soviet documents that claimed to be evidence about US biological warfare in Korea did not respolve the allegations as claimed. However, this move was made by the communist party as a tool by Beria to unify the communist parties and all the power struggles that occurred after the death of Stalin.

The strategic move that Eisenhower made to the North Korea as well as to Moscow, Peiping, and P'yongyang was intended to send a message to the communist countries of his intentions. He made sure that these countries heard his message. He relays a message that the intentions of the US is to maintain peace but that if the aggressor countries refuse to comply to the US’ terms, that the US would not hesitate to use force. The US places the “threat that leaves something to chance”. Truman tries to state that if the armistice agreements do not work, that all of the communist countries will suffer the consequences. He leaves it up to the other countries to decide whether or not to continue skirmishing over South Korea and the issues revolving around the armistice agreements. The next move on part of the US was to make a proposal that may appeal to their opposition. General Clark proposed to exchange sick and wounded prisoners. By doing this, the US tries to make it so both sides get some kind of benefit, and to show an act of kindness and generosity; making “giving in” more attractive for the North Korean government as well as benefiting armistice settlements.

After the first year of warfare in the Korean peninsula, it was clear to both opposing parties that the unification of Korea was impossible by the use of military force. Both allied and communist parties came to a realization that there needed to be a peaceful armistice agreement to determine the future of Korea. The Soviet representative stated,” it would be necessary to begin negotiations for a cease-fire, for an armistice with a mutual withdrawal of troops from the 38th parallel.” 4 The proposal made by the USSR created a lot of attention, and thus made the communist party look as if, they were attempting to end the hostilities. At the same time creating propaganda against the UNC and lack of attempt by the allied forces to engage in peaceful agreements. However, for the next two years, there were breaks of the initial armistice. North Korea continued to violate the cease-fire in hopes that they would be able to stall and regain control over all of Korea before the issue of repatriation was resolved. This way, the US would be forced to heed to the communist party’s demands.

Even though, The US had used the threat of nuclear weapons to end the Korean War if the armistice agreements had not progressed, it is the death of Stalin that ended the Korean War and the progression of the peace talks. In addition, it is claimed that the warning to Beijing that it would use nuclear weapons against China that ended the war.5 After the death of Stalin, Zhou Enlai, a representatiive of the PRC urged the Soviet to come up with a conclusion for the armistice and to speed up the process. The death of Stalin indicated the fall of the Cold War. The leader of one of the major superpowers in the world had passed away, and this the US would become the primary and superpower in relation to the international balance of power theory. Thus, at this time, Koreans also expressed a desire to the rapid cessation all of the military engagements.

On July 27th, the armistice agreement was signed in Panmunjom. This agreement provided for the “suspension of open hostilities, a fixed demarcation line with a four kilometer buffer zone ( the DMZ), and a mechanism for the transfer of prisoners of war.” Both sides pledged not to engage in any kind of military activity within the DMZ. The armistice created the Military Armistice Commission in order to ensure that both parties were holding all of the agreements and terms.6 After three days of the signing of the armistice, both parties withdrew their forces two kilometers from the line of demarcation, and therefore created the DMZ. The armistice forbade both forces to bring more troops, military forces, and any new weapon in to Korea, but the replacement for one was permissible. The Military Armistice Commission was composed of equal members of both parties to oversee that all of the provisions were enforced. A provision of the armistice of the armistice recommended that the belligerent government a political conference to negotiate a final settlement of the question of Korea. 7

A body called the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission aided the body of the Military Armistice Commission. This body was composed of members from Sweden, Switzerland, Czechoslovakia, and Poland. This body was to handle the issue of prisoners who refused repatriation. By September 6, all prisoners who wished for repatrian were exchanged. The transfer of nonrepatriates were dealt by the NNRC, but it was more difficult to resolve as some of the prisoners changed their minds as officials from both parties attempted to convince the prisoners that they should return home. On February 1, 194, The Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission dissolved after releasing the last of the nonrepatriates to decide as free civilians where they wanted to live.8

After the armistice in 1953, the Soviet Union also had its own political objectives. It seemed that the Soviet was trying to cooperate and co-exist with the United States instead of fighting with them. The USSR then attempted to negotiate with the United States by arranging a conference that included China, France, Great Britain, the United States, and the USSR to work towards several important objectives. These objectives included, “to turn the Korean armistice in to a peace settlement, to bring the war between France and Vietnam to a negotiated end, to stop the rearmament of Germany and to bring about the absolute prohibition of atomic and biological weapons”.9 The Soviets believed that the only way to settle international disputes that were acceptable to all parties was to bring together a conference with all the five major powers. This seems to be the Soviet’s attempt to “give in” without looking as if they really lost. This strategy makes it seem that the Soviet is really trying to compromise and trying to beckon all the other parties to be peaceful as well, but really it done because their attempts to “stand firm” failed.

Arguably, the Korean War has yet to end because of the lack of a formal peace treaty between North and South Korea. Although there is technical peace between the two countries, the DMZ remains to be a heavily guarded border. Even after the Armistice agreements, the communist North Korea refused to recognize the UN’s authority to create methods of unification for Korea. Thus, the conference in Geneva, Switzerland, where the political conference recommended in the armistice agreement closed on June 15 1954 with the country still divided. However, the Korean War made a huge impact on the world and expressed many principles that were held by both parties. The UN and expressed their willingness to suppress armed aggression, and how far they were willing to go in order to suppress communist actions against allied forces. The Western powers also strengthened their NATO alliance. With the further reinforcement of NATO forces in the end of the Korean War, the Soviet was unlikely to continue to act aggressively due to NATO ability to build up forces from the outset of the Korean War. For the Eastern bloc, China also gained the respect as a power to reckon with because of its increases army and air force power. They proved that China was not only a great power in Asia, but in the world as well.

It is hopeful that one day the peninsula of Korea will be reunited. The armistice is still the only truce that prevents the resumption of the war, but it meant to be temporary and only as a cease-fire until all parties could create a peaceful treaty. This has made the Korean Peninsula the highest militarized area in the world. In recent light North Korea has even walked out of the Armistice Commission meeting and has threatened to pull out of the Armistice Agreement. Thus, it has become a very important issue to put an end to the Korean War by some sort of peace agreement; however, it would be difficult for the UN or the US to convince the North Korean government to agree on common terms since both sides continue to distrust each other. When both parties stop violating the armistice agreement, can they build any credibility to their promises and begin to trust each other enough to negotiate the unification of Korea.


BBC News, http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/2774931.stm 2003/07/22 11:39:37 GMT

CRS Report for Congress

Global Security.org/wmd/library/report.crs/95-1187.htm

Stephen Endicott and Edward Hagerman, Twelve Newly Released Soviet-era ‘documents” and allegations of US Germ warfare during the Korean war 1998 http://www.yorku.ca/sendicot/125SovietDocuments.htm

Office of the Chief of Military History United States Army, Army Historical Series, Chapter 25 The Korean War, 1950-1953 Pp 567 http://www.army.mil/chm-pg/books/amh/amh-25.htm

James Sheply, “How Dulles Averted War,” Life, 16 January 1956, 70-72; and Dwight D Eisenhower, The White House Years: Mandated for Change, 1953-1956 ( Garden City, NY.: Doubleday and Co., 1963), 179-80

The Korean War, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korean_War

Text of the Korean War Armistice Agreement


Kathryn Weathersby, New Findings on the Korean War, htto://wwics.si.edu/index.cfm?topic_id=1409&fuseaction=library.print_this&id=426&stoplayout=true

1 Text of the Korean War Armistice Agreement


2 The Korean War, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korean_War

3 Office of the Chief of Military History United States Army, Army Historical Series, Chapter 25 The Korean War, 1950-1953 Pp 567 http://www.army.mil/chm-pg/books/amh/amh-25.htm

4 Kathryn Weathersby, New Findings on the Korean War, htto://wwics.si.edu/index.cfm?topic_id=1409&fuseaction=library.print_this&id=426&stoplayout=true

5 James Sheply, “How Dulles Averted War,” Life, 16 January 1956, 70-72; and Dwight D Eisenhower, The White House Years: Mandated for Change, 1953-1956 ( Garden City, NY.: Doubleday and Co., 1963), 179-80

6 BBC News, http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/2774931.stm 2003/07/22 11:39:37 GMT

7 Office of the Chief of Military History United States Army, Army Historical Series, Chapter 25 The Korean War, 1950-1953 Pp 567 http://www.army.mil/chm-pg/books/amh/amh-25.htm

8 Office of the Chief of Military History United States Army, Army Historical Series, Chapter 25 The Korean War, 1950-1953 Pp 567 http://www.army.mil/chm-pg/books/amh/amh-25.htm

9 Stephen Endicott and Edward Hagerman, Twelve Newly Released Soviet-era ‘documents” and allegations of US Germ warfare during the Korean war 1998 http://www.yorku.ca/sendicot/125SovietDocuments.htm

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