Korean Armistice Agreement

Korean Armistice Agreement
Delegates sign the Korean Armistice Agreement in P’anmunjŏm
Signed 27 July 1953
Location P’anmunjŏm
Signatories / William Kelly Harrison, Jr.
North Korea Nam Il
China Peng Dehuai
Parties United Nations Command
North Korea Korean People's Army
China Chinese People's Volunteer Army
Languages English, Korean, Chinese

The Korean Armistice Agreement (Korean: 한국휴전협정) is the armistice which serves to ensure a complete cessation of hostilities of 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 Korean People's Army (KPA), and the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army (PVA).[1] 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."[2] No "final peaceful settlement" has been achieved. 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 North and South Korea before the Korean War.


By mid-December 1950, the United States was discussing terms for an agreement to end the Korean War.[3] The desired agreement would end the fighting, provide assurances against its resumption, and protect the future security of UNC forces.[4] The United States asked there needed to be a military armistice commission of mixed membership that would supervise all agreements.[3] 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."[3] The U.S. also desired to make a demilitarized zone that would be roughly 20 miles wide.[3] The agreement would address the issue of prisoners of war which the U.S. believed should be exchanged on a one-for-one basis.[3]

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.[5] The UNC did not endorse Rhee’s position.[5] 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.[6] 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.”[6] At the end of June, however, the Assembly decided to support armistice talks,[6] although President Rhee continued to oppose it.[7]

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 – seventeen days after armistice talks had begun – did it change its slogan of "drive the enemy into the sea" to "drive the enemy to the 38th parallel."[8] North Korea was pressured to support armistice talks by allies the People's Republic of China (PRC, China) and the Soviet Union, whose support enabled North Korea to continue fighting.

Armistice discussions[]

Site of negotiations in 1951

Talks concerning an armistice started July 10, 1951,[9] in Kaesŏng, a city occupied by North Korea in North Hwanghae Province near the South Korean border.[10] The two primary negotiators were Chief of Army Staff General Nam Il, a North Korean Deputy Premier, and United States Vice Admiral Charles Turner Joy.[11] After a period of two weeks, on June 26, 1951, a five-part agenda was agreed upon[12] and this guided talks until signing of the armistice on July 27, 1953. The items to be discussed were:

  1. Adoption of agenda.
  2. Fixing a military demarcation line between both sides so as to establish a demilitarized zone as a basic condition for cessation of hostilities in Korea.
  3. Concrete arrangements for realization of a ceasefire and armistice in Korea, including composition, authority and functions of a supervisory organization for carrying out the terms of a truce and armistice.
  4. Arrangements relating to prisoners of war.
  5. Recommendations to the governments of the countries concerned on both sides.[12]

After the agenda was decided, talks proceeded slowly with off and on again discussions. The longest gap between discussions started on August 23, 1951,[12] during the morning before sunrise, when North Korea and its allies claimed the conference site in Kaesŏng had been bombed. North Korea requested the UNC conduct an immediate investigation, which concluded there was evidence a UNC aircraft had attacked the conference site. The evidence, however, appeared to be manufactured. The Communists subsequently refused to permit an investigation during daylight hours.[13]

Colonel level discussions on 11 October 1951

Armistice talks did not start again until October 25, 1951.[9] The U.S. would not allow further discussion to take place in Kaesŏng.[14] Panmunjom, a nearby village in Kyŏnggi Province bordering North and South Korea, was chosen as the new location for peace agreement deliberations conditional on sharing responsibility for protection of the village by both powers.[15]

The on-again, off-again armistice negotiations continued for two years,[16] first at Kaesong, on the border between North and South Korea, and then at the neighbouring village of Panmunjom.[17] A major, problematic negotiation point was prisoner of war (POW) repatriation.[18] The PVA, KPA, and UN Command could not agree on a system of repatriation because many PVA and KPA soldiers refused to be repatriated back to the north,[19] which was unacceptable to the Chinese and North Koreans.[20] In the final armistice agreement, signed on 27 July 1953, a Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission, under the Chairman Indian General K. S. Thimayya, was set up to handle the matter.[21]

In 1952, the United States elected a new president, and on 29 November 1952, the president-elect, Dwight D. Eisenhower, went to Korea to learn what might end the Korean War.[22] With the United Nations' acceptance of India's proposed Korean War armistice,[23] the KPA, the PVA, and the UN Command ceased fire with the battle line approximately at the 38th parallel. Upon agreeing to the armistice, the belligerents established the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), which has since been patrolled by the KPA and ROKA, United States, and Joint UN Commands. Discussions continued slowly because of difficulties regarding demarcation 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 had confronted each other at the time.[9] In March 1953, the death of Joseph Stalin helped spur negotiations. While Chinese leader Mao Zedong was not willing to compromise then, the new Soviet leadership issued a statement two weeks after Stalin's death, calling for a quick end to hostilities.[24]

The building where the armistice was signed, now housing the North Korea Peace Museum

Questions of how to handle repatriation of prisoners of war was also an issue during negotiations. The Communists held 10,000 POWs and the UNC held 150,000 POWs.[3] 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 sent back to the north, which was unacceptable to the Chinese and North Koreans.[8] In the final armistice agreement, a Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission was set up to handle the matter.[25] 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 NNSC member inspection teams from Czechoslovakia, Poland, Sweden and Switzerland operated throughout Korea.

On July 19, 1953, delegates reached agreement covering all issues on the agenda regarding an armistice.[26] 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.[2] Twelve hours after the signing of the document, all regulations approved in the armistice commenced.[27]


The signed armistice established a “complete cessation of all hostilities in Korea by all armed force”[2] 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.[28] No peace treaty was signed which means that the Korean War has not officially ended.

The Demilitarized Zone compared to the earlier 38th parallel de facto border

The armistice also established the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) and 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.[29] 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.”[2] 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.”[2] Even in 2017, 64 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 reached 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 views of the U.S. is that Americans won the war, at least in the views of President Barack Obama,[30] while North Korea and China both claim that they won the Korean War.[31]

Subsequent events[]

Failure of the Geneva Conference[]

Article IV (Paragraph 60) of the Armistice Agreement calls for a political conference to be held within 3 months of the signing of the agreement in order "to insure the peaceful settlement of the Korean question".[2] A conference was held in Geneva, Switzerland on April 1954, missing the 3 month timeline by 6 months. The conference focused on two separate conflicts: the conflict in Korea, and the conflict in Indochina. Participants in the talks on the conflict in Korea involved the US, USSR, France, China, along with North and South Korea. The peace agreement on the Korean peninsula was officially discussed in the 1954 Geneva Conference, and Chinese diplomat Zhou Enlai told the US Secretary of Defense, John Foster Dulles, about the "Peace Treaty of the Korean Peninsula" However, the US Secretary of Defense did not work out and the "Peace Treaty on the Korean Peninsula" was not concluded. [32] The United States intentionally avoided discussing the "Peace Treaty on the Korean Peninsula". There were criticisms from the representatives of the 1954 Geneva Conference about the negative attitude of United States delegate.

United States abrogation of paragraph 13(d)[]

Deployment of U.S. atomic weapons in Korea in 1958

Paragraph 13(d) of the Armistice Agreement mandated that neither side introduce new weapons into Korea, other than piece-for-piece replacement of equipment. In September 1956 the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Radford indicated 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.[33] However paragraph 13(d) prevented the introduction of nuclear weapons and missiles.[34] The U.S. unilaterally abrogated paragraph 13(d), breaking the Armistice Agreement, despite concerns by United Nations allies.[35][36][37] At a meeting of the Military Armistice Commission on June 21, 1957, the U.S. informed the North Korean representatives that the United Nations Command no longer considered itself bound by paragraph 13(d) of the armistice.[38][39] In January 1958 nuclear armed Honest John missiles and 280mm atomic cannons were deployed to South Korea,[40] followed within a year by atomic demolition munitions[41] and nuclear armed Matador cruise missiles with the range to reach China and the Soviet Union.[36][42]

The U.S. believed that North Korea had introduced new weapons contrary to 13(d), but did not make specific allegations.[43] 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.[33][44]

North Korea denounced the abrogation of paragraph 13(d).[37] 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.[36]

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 1975, the U.N. General Assembly adopted resolutions endorsing the desirability of replacing the Armistice Agreement with a peace treaty and dissolving the UNC.[45][46] This was followed by North Korean attempts to start peace discussions with the U.S. The U.S. however believed influencing China to restrict North Korean actions would be more effective.[47]

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. Approving nations included the United States and the Peoples Republic of China, two of the armistice's signatories, effectively refuting any suggestion that the armistice was no longer in force.[45]

North Korean announcements to withdraw from the agreement[]

Depiction of a banner during a 1989 student festival in Pyongyang, prior to calls from the DPRK to leave the agreement.

North Korea has announced that it will no longer abide by the armistice at least 6 times, in the years 1994, 1996, 2003, 2006, 2009, and 2013.[48][49]

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 it regarded the U.S. deployment of Patriot missiles in South Korea as terminating the armistice.[50][51]

In January 2002 U.S. President George W. Bush labeled North Korea in his first State of the Union Address as part of an Axis of Evil.[52] In October 2006 North Korea conducted its first nuclear weapons test. On May 27, 2009, North Korea announced it no longer felt bound by the armistice agreement.[53] There were two isolated violent incidents in 2010, the ROKS Cheonan sinking (attributed to North Korea, despite denials) and the North Korean Bombardment of Yeonpyeong.

In 2010, the U.S. position regarding a peace treaty was that this can only be negotiated when North Korea "takes irreversible steps toward denuclearization".[54]

In 2013 North Korea argued the armistice was meant to be a transitional measure. It argued that North Korea had made a number of proposals for replacing the armistice with a peace treaty, but the U.S. had not responded in a serious way. It further argued the Military Armistice Commission and Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission had long been effectively dismantled, paralysing the supervisory functions of the armistice. North Korea believes the annual U.S. and South Korean exercises Key Resolve and Foal Eagle are provocative and threaten North Korea with nuclear weapons.[55] JoongAng Ilbo reported the U.S. vessels equipped with nuclear weapons were participating in the exercise,[56] and The Pentagon publicly announced that B-52 bombers flown over South Korea were reaffirming the U.S. "nuclear umbrella" for South Korea.[57]

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.[58] North Korea stated it had the right to make a preemptive nuclear attack.[58] A United Nations spokesman stated 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.[59] 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 non stop, round-trip mission to Korea from the United States.[60] Following this mission, North Korean state media announced that it was readying rockets to be on standby to attack U.S. targets.[61] In May 2013, North Korea offered to enter into negotiations for a peace treaty to replace the armistice agreement.[62][63][64]

In August 2016, North Korea installed anti-personnel mines to prevent potential defectors of its front-line border guards around the "Bridge of No Return,” situated in the Joint Security Area (JSA).[65] The UN Command has protested this move as it violates the Armistice agreement which specifically prohibits armed guards and anti-personnel mines.[65]

In 2016, when North Korea proposed formal peace talks, the U.S. adjusted its position from a pre-condition that North Korea had taken "irreversible steps toward denuclearization", to the negotiations including curbing the nuclear program. The discussions did not take place. State Department spokesman said "[North Korea] periodically raise the idea and it never really gets far".[66][67]


Over the years, United States Presidents have made proclamations in support of the National Korean War Veterans Armistice Day. On 26 July 2017, President Donald Trump proclaimed July 27 as National Korean War Veterans Armistice Day.[68][69][70]

North Korea commemorates July 27 as a national holiday known as Day of Victory in the Great Fatherland Liberation War.

See also[]



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Coordinates: 37°57′40″N 126°39′52″E / 37.9611°N 126.6645°E / 37.9611; 126.6645