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Korean War Armistice
Did you know? Joseph Stalin's death helped precipitate the Korean War Armistice Agreement.

  • The armistice was held up by prisoner exchange issues
  • It set up a demarcation line between the two countries
  • The armistice was signed on July 27th, 1953
  • The Korean War Armistice, hammered out in 1953, brought an end to the Korean War, a war which was never officially declared in the first place. Meant only as a stopgap measure until a real peace treaty could be agreed upon, the Korean War Armistice is incredibly, to this day, the only thing standing in the way of a resumption of hostilities between the two countries. The line separating North and South Korean, agreed upon in the Korean War Armistice, is the most tension packed place on the globe.

    North Korea invaded South Korea in a surprise attack on June 25th, 1950. This move began a conflict that would last more than three years and cost thousands upon thousands of lives in some of the fiercest fighting in modern day warfare.. The United States became involved on June 30th, 1950 when it became apparent to President Truman that diplomacy would not quell the fighting. The war raged back and forth, with the United Nations forces gaining back territory and pushing far into North Korea, only to be repelled by the Chinese, who joined the war when the UN forces crossed the 38th Parallel. The fighting ground to a stalemate after successful Communist offenses in the spring of 1951, and the battle lines were drawn at the 38th Parallel, where it had originally begun. Both sides proceeded to dig in their forces.

    With the Communists and United Nations troops, led by the United States, firmly entrenched in their positions, it soon appeared that only a negotiated settlement or a stalemate would avoid massive losses on both sides. On June 23rd, 1951, the Soviet delegate to the United Nations, Jacob Malik, suggested both sides discuss a cease fire. On July 8th officials began to meet thirty five miles northwest of the South Korean capital of Seoul, in a city called Kaesong, which used to be old capital of Korea. At the time, no one knew it would take over two years to reach an agreement. One of the major sticking points for the Communist side was the repatriation of prisoners of war.

    The UN negotiators knew that many of the Chinese POWs they now held were former soldiers in the anti-Communist armies of Chiang Kai-Shek, and if returned to Communist rule they would be severely punished. The UN negotiators held out hope for a one-for-one prisoner exchange, which would allow them to keep the prisoners in question until all of theirs were returned, but the Communists quashed this notion, calling for an all-for-all exchange. The UN delegates, as the talks dragged on, proposed that released soldiers could choose where they wished to go, but Chinese officials vehemently were against this, fearing thousands would flock back to the hated army of Chiang Kai-Shek.

    Communist delegates expressed outrage and shock when they learned of the huge number of prisoners held by the United Nations side that had said, in screening processes, they would refuse repatriation. This led to even more bargaining and delays, all the while with the war focusing on the fronts, in attempts to gain favorable terrain. In 1953, after months and months of fruitless negotiations, Joseph Stalin died. The Russian leader's unexpected demise led to a breakthrough at the peace talks, when the Communists, now influenced by new Soviet leadership, agreed to exchange sick and wounded prisoners. The floodgates finally opened, and despite some embarrassing moments for the UN that were brought on by South Korean leadership in the form of letting some 27,000 prisoners who did not want to return to the North escape into the civilian population, an armistice was signed. Prisoners were exchanged, with those not wishing to return to their former countries detained for a period of time. The Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission was set up in the Demilitarized Zone, where 22,000 Chinese and North Korean prisoners and 350 UN non-repatriates were housed. In the end, the Communists could only persuade 600 to come back to their side; the rest went to Taipei or India.

    When the Korean War Armistice was finally signed on July 27th, 1953, negotiation talks had been ongoing for a little more than two years, held up by the prisoner issues and the location of the demarcation line between North and South Korea. Military leaders from China and North Korea signed the armistice on one side, with the US-led United Nations Command signing on behalf of the entire international community. South Korea afraid that if hostilities resumed they would be left on their own, never signed the document! The armistice, signed by United States Lieutenant General William K Harrison and General Nam Il of the North Koreans, said its goal was a ceasefire "until a final peaceful settlement is achieved". That agreement was never reached; a conference in Geneva in 1954, designed to come to a formal peace accord, ended without any agreement on the issues. Today, the armistice is still the only safeguard in place for peace on the Korean peninsula. The specifics of the Korean War Armistice provided for a suspension of the fighting, a fixed line of demarcation with a 2.4 mile wide buffer zone on either side, a prisoner of war exchange, and a pledge from both sides not to "execute any hostile act within, from, or against the demilitarized zone", or enter any areas under the control of the other. The agreement also established the Military Armistice Commission and various other agencies to make sure that the truce held up. The MAC, made up of members from both sides, still meets on a regular basis today in the village of Panmunjom.

    In the more than fifty years after the 1953 Korean War Armistice was signed, the two Koreas have gone in opposite directions as South Korea became an economic force globally, now boasting the world's eleventh-largest economy, being a key producer of ships, electronics, cars, steel, and other vital goods. With a gross domestic product that today approaches over one trillion dollars, its per capita income is approximately $20,000 per year, or twenty times that of North Korea. As for North Korea, they have turned to their own type of Communism. It remains a powerful military country but has paid a steep price, being economically isolated by much of the world. The end of the Cold War brought a close to its beneficial ties with the Soviet Union. China, more interested in expanding her markets than in North Korea, has seen its relationship with its former ally become less and less relevant. Famine and poverty are huge problems today in North Korea, forcing the nation to threaten nuclear weapon build-up as a ploy to try to get out from under the dilemma its own government created. As you read this, the Korean War Armistice represents merely a discontinuance of the fighting to a horrific war that was never declared to begin with. User-generated content powered by Associated Content| Publish your own Content|