Celebrating the bridge between war and peace
On July 27, 1953, an armistice agreement brought an enormous silence stretching across an embattled Korean peninsula. Sixty six years later, this bridge between war and peace remains in effect.
United Nations Command (UNC) hosted a group of distinguished visitors at the Joint Security Area’s Peace House on the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) for a ceremony celebrating the 66th anniversary of the agreement’s signing, July 27. The ceremony featured speeches as well as tribute to each of the Sending States—countries which supported the Republic of Korea (ROK) during the Korean War—recognizing their contributions and their sacrifices.
“Sixty six years ago today, an armistice agreement that had taken two years to negotiate finally came into effect,” said Brigadier Huw Lloyd-Jones, U.K. member of the UNC Military Armistice Commission (UNCMAC) and representative of the UNC Sending States. “To the service men and women of the UN Sending States this was wonderful news. It meant not only the end of fighting and the loss of life and limb, but also the welcome repatriation of our prisoners of war and the prospect of an early return to distant homes and families.”
The armistice ended hostilities; however, as an agreement between military commanders, it was designed to be replaced by a peace agreement signed by civilian leadership.
“The armistice agreement is unique,” said U.S. Army Gen. Robert B. “Abe” Abrams, commander, UNC, Combined Forces Command, United States Forces Korea. “Signed in 1953, it is a purely military document taken up not by civilian leaders of each nation at the time, but by the military commanders prosecuting the war.”
The JSA, where the event took place, is an 800-square-meter area serving as a diplomatic venue for North and South Korean discourse. The facilities straddle the demarcation line, making it the area along the heavily fortified border between the two nations where ROK and (North) Korean People’s Army security guards come closest to one another.
According to Abrams, recent diplomatic endeavors have demilitarized the JSA, leading to the removal of weapons on the property for the first time since 1976. These efforts have set the stage for dialogue at higher levels where it is hoped that diplomacy will lead to denuclearization and an eventual peace agreement for the peninsula.
“It is because of the armistice and the men and women who maintain it that we can gather here today, mere steps from the demarcation line, and feel safe,” Abrams said, crediting the UNCMAC, the UNC Security Battalion, Sending States and ROK allies with making the current climate possible. “All of you have maintained the armistice agreement. You have protected democracy and shared values. For 66 years you have prevented a resumption of war and worked diligently in the pursuit of peace.”
The UNCMAC is charged with ensuring the appropriate implementation of the armistice agreement and its maintenance over time, according to U.S. Army Maj. Brad Miller, United Nations Command Military Armistice Commission chief of operations, who has been present for the recent reduction in tensions at the DMZ. The sub-organization of UNC is comprised of 60 individuals from six nations: the United States, ROK, New Zealand, Canada, Denmark and Columbia.
“Potentially no one foresaw that six-and-a-half decades later we would still be here under armistice conditions,” Miller said. “But, we can attribute that to the effectiveness of the armistice commission and the United Nations Command in its entirety in ensuring over the past six-and-a-half decades we have maintained armistice conditions.”
Maintaining those conditions takes regular vigilance, self-evaluation and communication, Miller said. UNCMAC performs self-imposed inspections of their own personnel to make sure that they are abiding by the terms of the armistice. The group is also responsible for communicating with their North Korean counterparts when appropriate to ensure bilateral adherence to the armistice.
“We collectively work for one goal, and again, that is to maintain the armistice conditions,” Miller said. The purposefulness of the organization’s mission is derived from the idea that adherence to the armistice is what gives the agreement its validity. This has in turn created a more stable region in which the ROK and their allies have been able to flourish economically and democratically.
Miller is confident in the UNCMAC’s ability to adapt when faced with a changing dynamic on the peninsula.
“It’s hard to say what exactly the future holds,” Miller said. “What I will say is that the UNC is an extremely flexible organization. As a command it is uniquely and appropriately skilled to be able to manage and monitor whatever challenges arise to either keep the armistice intact or move to whatever the next phase may be.”
Abrams took time in his speech to remember the cost of the Korean War, and to highlight the resulting international partnerships that have spanned well over half a century.
“Forged in the crucible of ground combat, an alliance emerged,” Abrams said. “International partners heard the call and likewise committed themselves to security and stability of the peninsula. Together, with determination and professionalism, there is a success story. That story is the restoration of order to chaos and providing the peninsula with a durable armistice.”
After celebrating the past 66 years of the armistice agreement and honoring the sacrifices of the UNC Sending States and their ROK allies, the appreciation for what has been wrought was palpable throughout the Freedom House. Lloyd-Jones remarked on meeting with veterans of the war who revisited the Korean peninsula and consider the now prosperous and free ROK to be a justification for the hardships they endured.
“When it was signed, there was not this prevalent spirit of exultation as General Clark said, it was not a day to exalt,” Miller said, paraphrasing U.S. Army Gen. Mark Clark, the former UNC commander who was a signatory on the armistice agreement. “While it was very significant for the Soldiers that the firing had stopped, the armistice was never the end, it was never conceived as the end. It was the beginning of the next step to eventually get to something more permanent, and of course we all hold out hope that that one day will manifest itself.”
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