North Korea's Campaign Against the Korean Armistice
Congressional Research Service Report for Congress, 95-1187 F
December 11, 1995
-ti- North Korea's Campaign Against the Korean Armistice
Specialist in Asian Affairs
The 1953 Korean Armistice Agreement, ending the Korean War,
established mechanisms to enforce the armistice along a military
demarcation line separating North and South Korea. Since April
1994, North Korea has acted to dismantle these mechanisms as a
means of pressuring the United States to replace the Armistice
Agreement with a U.S.-North Korean peace agreement, excluding South
Korea. U.S.-South Korean responses to North Korea's responses to
North Korea's moves have been largely rhetorical, which raises the
question of future responses if North Korea escalates its campaign.
PROVISIONS OF THE KOREAN ARMISTICE
The Korean Armistice Agreement was signed on July 27, 1953,
ending three years of war. The signatories were: the United
Nations Command, which represented 16 U.N. member states that had
committed troops to Korea under U.N. Security Council resolutions
of June 27 and July 7, 1950; and the military commands of North
Korea and China. The South Korean (R.O.K.) Government refused to
sign, although it declared that it would not obstruct
implementation of the pact. The Armistice Agreement and subsequent
amending agreements established a number of mechanisms to maintain
(1) A military demarcation line (MDL) separating North and
(2) A demilitarized zone (DMZ) on either side of the MDL,
running the entire length of the Korean peninsula. The DMZ is four
kilometers wide (about 2.4 miles), extending two kilometers to the
north and south of the MDL. Coastal islands north and south of the
DMZ were allotted to the Communist and U.N. commands respectively,
except for four island groups off Korea's west coasts north of the
DMZ, which the Armistice Agreement stipulated would remain under
the U.N. Command;
(3) A Military Armistice Commission (MAC), located at the town
of Panmunjom and tasked with investigating and resolving violations
of the Armistice Agreement;
(4) A Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (NNSC), composed
until 1993 of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Sweden, and Switzerland. The
NNSC was to investigate violations of the armistice, including the
prohibition of imports of arms into Korea.
The Agreement stipulated that the NNSC's headquarters would be
located "in proximity to" the MAC's headquarters (i.e., Panmunjom);
(5) A Joint Security Area (JSA) within the DMZ, encompassing
Panmunjom and the MAC headquarters, according to an "Agreement on
Military Armistice Headquarters Area, Its Security, and
Constitution," which the signatories signed on Oct. 19, 1953.
Personnel assigned to the MAC, the NNSC, and designated security
personnel were allowed access to all parts of the JSA. However, in
August 1976, North Korean security personnel in the JSA assaulted
U.N. command security personnel. Two American officers were
killed. The MAC and North Korea negotiated an amending agreement
of Sept. 6, 1976, which provided that: (a) personnel assigned to
the MAC and the NNSC would continue to have access to the entire
JSA; and (b) security personnel of either side must remain on their
side of the Military Demarcation Line within the JSA.
NORTH KOREA'S PROPOSAL TO
REPLACE THE ARMISTICE AGREEMENT
On Mar. 25, 1974, North Korea proposed that it and the United
States negotiate a bilateral peace agreement that would replace the
Armistice Agreement. North Korea's proposal included a total
withdrawal of U.S. forces from South Korea, a prohibition of the
introduction of weapons into Korea, and the termination of foreign
military bases in Korea. Since then, North Korea frequently has
renewed the proposal. North Korea has held that South Korea has no
right to participate in peace talks since South Korea did not sign
the Armistice Agreement and the Commander of U.S. Forces in South
Korea holds operational command over R.O.K. forces.
In December 1991, North and South Korea concluded an
"Agreement on Reconciliation, Nonaggression and Exchanges and
Cooperation," which stated that the two sides would "transform the
present armistice regime into a firm state of peace...and shall
abide by the present military Armistice Agreement (of July 27,
1953) until such time as such a state of peace has taken hold."
NORTH KOREA'S MOVES TO WEAKEN THE ARMISTICE
After March 1991, North Korea refused to participate in full
MAC meetings, although it did attend lower level meetings. In
1993, North Korea expelled from its territory the Czech members of
the NNSC. These acts appeared to be in response to other
developments: the 1991 appointment of a South Korean general to
represent the U.N. Command in the MAC (an American general had led
the U.N. Command team) and the division of Czechoslovakia into the
Czech Republic and Slovakia.
It appears that North Korea decided to re-assert its bilateral
peace agreement proposal in November 1993 when Washington and
Pyongyang began to move towards bilateral negotiations on the
nuclear issue. Beginning in April 1994, North Korea initiated a
series of actions to weaken the mechanisms of the armistice and
pressure the Clinton Administration to accept bilateral peace
(1) On Apr. 28, 1994, North Korea's Foreign Ministry issued a
statement, describing the Armistice Agreement as "blank sheets of
paper" and demanding the United States negotiate a peace agreement.
North Korea withdrew its delegates from the MAC and established a
"military liaison office" at Panmunjom "as a new mechanism for
negotiating with the U.S. side."
(2) North Korea and China issued a communique on Sept. 2,
1994, in which China announced the withdrawal of its delegation
from the MAC, "taking into consideration the request of the Korean
(3) At the U.S.-North Korean nuclear talks in September-
October 1994, the North Koreans pressed their U.S. counterparts to
expand the talks into the negotiation of a peace agreement.
(4) In January 1995, North Korea proposed that the United
States establish a military liaison group at Panmunjom to negotiate
with the North Korean military liaison group created when North
Korea withdrew from the MAC. North Korea described this as an
"interim arrangement" preceding negotiation of a bilateral peace
agreement. Members of the North Korean liaison group have pressed
U.S. officers to hold meetings of officers at the rank of General
outside of the MAC.
1. Seoul KBS-1 Radio Network Broadcast, Feb. 8, 1995;
Professor Reviews Visit to DPRK. Yomiuri Shimbun (Tokyo),
Jan. 31, 1995. p. 4.
(5) Beginning in January 1995, North Korea's demands for a
bilateral peace agreement contained a stronger element of threat.
A Foreign Ministry statement of February 24 warned that if the
United States continued to "evade its responsibility" to conclude
a bilateral peace agreement, "we will have no alternative but to
take more necessary measures to solve this problem."
(6) In early March 1995, North Korea expelled the Polish
delegation of the NNSC from its territory. The Poles had
maintained an NNSC facility in North Korea just north of Panmunjom.
(7) Beginning in March 1995, North Korea staged incidents in
the DMZ, including open penetration of the DMZ by North Korean
troops, on several occasions the crossing of the MDL by these
troops, and the refusal of North Korean personnel in the DMZ to
wear the insignias specified by the MAC.
2. Kim Song-chin. Drastic Increase in DPRK Activity in DMZ.
Chungang Ilbo (Seoul), June 18, 1995. p. 2.
(8) On May 3, 1995, North Korea issued a statement that
unilaterally abrogated the September 196 agreement on the movement
of personnel within the JSA. The statement prohibited personnel of
the NNSC and the U.S. military personnel assigned to the MAC from
crossing the MDL within the JSA. The statement accused the United
States and South Korea of moving "thousands of military personnel
armed with sophisticated weapons into the DMZ," and warned that if
the United States
allowed such "provocations" to continue, "we will take steps
concerning the position of the DMZ to cope with them."
(9) Since its May 3, 1995, warning regarding the DMZ, North
Korea repeatedly has accused South Korea of moving troops and
weapons into sectors of the DMZ. It has warned that "an accidental
war" could break out.
3. One example, in the official Workers' (Communist) Party
journal, Nodong Sinmun, of Aug. 19, 1995, warned that "With
the previous armistice system, one cannot even prevent an
accidental situation from occurring." A second Nodong Sinmun
commentary of June 2, 1995, declared that "war can be
unleashed by a small accident."
(10) North Korean military officers at Panmunjom told U.S.
Command personnel in June 1995 that North Korea would announce in
the near future that the Armistice Agreement was null and void.
However, as of November 1995, North Korea has made no such
(11) In September 1995, North Korea issued a sequential dual
track proposal. It proposed to negotiate with the United States a
"peace guaranteeing system" by setting up a U.S.-North Korea mutual
security consultative commission. North Korean public statements
stressed that this peace system would include a U.S. troop
withdrawal from South Korea. However, Selig Harrison of the
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace claimed that during his
September visit to North Korea, a North Korean Lt. General said
that U.S. troops could remain for "an indeterminate period of time
before withdrawing." North Korea proposed that when a peace
system "is set up and implemented," North Korea would resume
military talks with South Korea, which it had broken off in 1992.
North Korea's proposal also indicated that U.S.-North Korean peace
negotiations would have a broad agenda while North-South military
talks would have a narrower agenda of negotiating a non-aggression
agreement. A North Korean statement of Oct. 18, 1995,
threatened "to take action to root out the outworn armistice
system." An October 28 statement linked future implementation of
the U.S.-North Korean nuclear Agreed Framework with U.S. agreement
to a "peace mechanism."
4. Nodong Sinmun, Sept. 19, 1995; Statement by North Korean
foreign Ministry, Sept. 7, 1995.
5. Exclusive Interview with Selig Harrison. Chungang Ilbo
(Seoul), Sept. 28, 1995. p. 3.
6. Nodong Sinmun, Sept. 19, 1995.
U.S.-SOUTH KOREAN RESPONSES
The Clinton Administration has rejected North Korea's proposal
to negotiate a bilateral peace agreement. It has stated that North
Korea should negotiate a peace accord with South Korea. The
Administration has reacted to North Korea's moves against the
armistice mechanisms with verbal protests and statements affirming
the validity of the Armistice Agreement. However, the
Administration has taken no further diplomatic or other actions to
counter North Korean moves. There was no
7. Interview with President Clinton. Yonhap News Service,
July 27, 1995.
U.S. reaction to North Korea's physical moves in the JSA to
abrogate the 1976 agreement with the U.N. Command. The
Administration has not responded to North Korea's threats to alter
the status of the DMZ.
Since North Korea's capture and release of a U.S. airman in
December 1994, the Administration has allowed U.S. military
personnel assigned to the MAC to meet with members of North Korea's
"military liaison group," and reportedly in September 1995, the
U.S. Military Command offered to upgrade military contacts to the
rank of General. However, knowledgeable sources stress that the
U.S. offer was for contacts to remain within the context of the MAC
with full South Korean participation. South Korea, however, has
opposed the U.S. proposal.
8. Exclusive Interview with Selig Harrison. Chungang Ilbo,
Sept. 28, 1995. p. 3. U.S. officials have confirmed to the
author that the U.S. Command did agree to talks at the General
The Clinton Administration's approach seems based on the
priority it gives to maintaining the October 1994 Agreed Framework,
under which the United States will provide North Korea with nuclear
reactors and economic and diplomatic benefits in return for North
Korea halting the operation of its nuclear installations. This
priority entails a strategy of avoiding confrontation with North
Korea on other issues. Administration and State Department
officials also appear to believe that North Korea is constrained
form instituting further acts against the armistice because of the
Agreed Framework and a weakened economy.
9. See: North Korea's Nuclear Weapons Program. CRS Issue
10. Hoagland, Jim. The Trojan Horse at North Korea's Gate.
Washington Post, Aug. 2, 1995. p. A25. This included a view
among key Clinton Administration officials that the North
Korean regime will collapse in the near future.
One potential counter-measure was a proposal that R.O.K.
President Kim Young-sam prepared to make on Aug. 15, 1995, for a
North-South peace agreement to be guaranteed by the United States
and China. U.S. officials interviewed for this report disclosed
that the Clinton Administration endorsed the idea of issuing such
a "two plus two" proposal. According to interviews with R.O.K.
officials, China reacted coolly, apparently to avoid a split with
North Korea if, as likely, Pyongyang would reject "the two plus two
proposal." This, coupled with South Korean public criticism over
the R.O.K. Government's handling of talks with North Korea over
shipments of rice to North Korea, dissuaded President Kim from
issuing the proposal.
North Korea has not implemented its threats to alter the DMZ,
formally declare the Armistice Agreement null and void, or link its
obligations under the Agreed Framework with U.S. acceptance of
bilateral peace negotiations. This suggests a policy debate in
Pyongyang. North Korea's apparent desire to retain the Agreed
Framework and its attempts to secure rice from South Korea and
Japan may constitute factors inducing caution in North Korean
policymakers. However, a rationale for implementation also exists:
the prospects of success, given the inactive U.S.-R.O.K. responses
to date; increased pressure on the United States to agree to
a peace agreement if the remaining armistice mechanisms cease to
exist; and the prospects of producing more disagreements between
Seoul and Washington. North Korean leaders also might react to
economic deterioration by seeking new political/diplomatic
victories (North Korea's economic situation is predicted to
deteriorate in the winter of 1995-1996). The apparent heightened
influence of the North Korean military in the regime could
strengthen the proponents of an aggressive strategy.
U.S.-R.O.K. strategy raises several questions related to
responses to possible future developments. First, have the Clinton
and Kim Young-sam administrations planned a substantive response
(and warned North Korea of such a response) if North Korea moves to
alter physically the DMZ, perhaps by occupying the northern half of
the DMZ with North Korean troops? A North Korean success in
reducing or bifurcating the DMZ would damage the armistice by
positioning North Korean troops closer physically to South Korean
troops, thus making likely an increase in violent incidents along
Second, will Seoul and Washington develop another counter-
proposal to replace the aborted "two plus two" proposal? According
to knowledgeable South Koreans interviewed for this report, the Kim
Young-sam Administration also considered a "two plus one" formula
(the "one" being the United States).
Third, if South Korea shifted to a "two plus one" proposal,
would the United States play only the role of guarantor, or would
it be an active negotiator? The question is pertinent because any
negotiation of a peace agreement would include military issues
involving U.S. forces in South Korea and possibly issues of
monitoring and a potential American role in monitoring. Moreover,
prospects appear better that North Korea in time would accept a
tripartite negotiation on military issues rather than North-South
Fourth, how extensive would the R.O.K.-U.S. military agenda be
in any peace agreement negotiation. Options range from negotiating
a non-aggression declaration to presenting an agenda consisting of
all or some of the following stated goals of U.S. policy: a
pullback of North Korean conventional forces from the DMZ; North
Korean cessation of production and export of long range missiles;
dismantling of North Korea's reported stockpiles of
chemical/biological weapons; and a complete resolution of the North
Korean nuclear weapons issues.
Fifth, if South Korea and the United States decide against
counter-diplomacy, would a more refined North Korean dual track
proposal for military negotiations become a suitable framework for
negotiations? If North Korea dropped the sequential negotiations
elements of its proposal to Selig Harrison and offered parallel
talks, this would advance the U.S. policy goal of promoting North-
South negotiations--though at the expense of agreeing to North
Korea's proposal for bilateral U.S.-North Korean peace
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