Alliance Articles

United Nations Command and a Korean Peace Process

United Nations Command and a Korean Peace Process

Colonel (Retired) Seung Joon “Steve” Lee

Former U.S. Army Foreign Area Officer

Introduction.

The United Nations Command (UNC) and its Member States have a role in both the present stability and future peace of the Korean Peninsula.  Since the first Panmunjeom Summit in April 2018, there has been much speculation about a peaceful settlement to the Korean War.  UNC and its 18 Member States, which includes South Korea, has a vital role in maintaining the stability that the Armistice Agreement affords and has the established experience and credibility for supporting the development and implementation of a peace settlement.  Instead of hindering a peace settlement, the United Nations Command would provide the stability to allow room for a peace process to develop.  A key factor for our side of the military demarcation line (MDL) will be our own trust and ability to work together.  Without trust and working together, North Korea will have the upper hand in controlling the pace and topics for discussions on military matters leading to a possible peace settlement.

In exploring the UNC and its role in a peace process, this article will address the following questions:

  • What is the relationship between the United Nations Command, the Armistice Agreement, and a possible end-of-war declaration or peace treaty?
  • What might be the implications of dissolving the United Nations Command, including the United Nations Command Military Armistice Commission (UNCMAC) and the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (NNSC)?
  • What should be the relationship between South Korea and the UN Command going forward?

A Note About “Peace” on the Korean Peninsula.

Over the years, the use of the term “peace” to describe the situation on the Korean Peninsula has been a misnomer.  And even though we can want peace and seek peace, by the very nature of the armistice in Korea, we do not have peace in Korea.  A more accurate way to describe the situation in Korea is in terms of stability and security.  There are arguments about how stable or secure the situation in Korea really is, but compared to war, the situation in Korea is stable, but not in peace.

Making this distinction is an important step in more clearly understanding the security environment of the Korean Peninsula.  Not making this distinction can cause confusion.  For example, policy makers among the 17 Sending States (which includes the United States) may wonder why their nation still needs to be committed to an area that has “peace.”

UNC’s Past:  Formed to Defend South Korea Against North Korea’s Attack and to “Restore International Peace and Security in the Area.”

In response to North Korea’s attack against South Korea on June 25, 1950, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 83 on June 27, 1950 and recommended “that the Members of the United Nations furnish such assistance to the Republic of Korea as may be necessary to repel the armed attack and to restore international peace and security in the area.”  After a bitter and difficult war that resulted in the Korean Armistice Agreement on July 27, 1953, the first reason for gathering Member nations for UNCSR 83 was met – repelling North Korea’s armed attack.  However, even after 67 years, the second reason for Member nations to provide assistance to South Korea has not been met – restoring international peace and security in the area.

UNC’s Present:  Charged to Maintain Stability Through the Armistice Agreement.

The United Nations Command, its 18 Member States, and the three-nation Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission already exist as a structure and international group of nations who are committed to “restoring international peace and security in the area.”  Formed by UNCSR 84, the United Nations Command’s mission has changed from originally defending South Korea against North Korea’s attack to maintaining the Armistice Agreement that keeps stability between the two sides. 

The daily work of supervising the Armistice Agreement is the Military Armistice Commission which was formed by the Armistice Agreement and includes both parties of the Agreement.  The United Nations Command’s component is called the UNC Military Armistice Commission or UNCMAC and is represented by all 18 Member States.  The NNSC continues to provide neutral observations and reports of activities pertaining to the Armistice Agreement.  Combined, the UNC Member States and NNSC provide an international presence of 21 nations who are committed to maintaining Armistice stability.

They all support UNC and its mission.  Over the years, UNC has recognized a need to revitalize itself, and over the past five to six years, efforts have been underway to make UNC a more capable and structured organization.  For most of its history, UNC positions were filled by U.S. personnel.  Then ROK personnel who were assigned to the ROK-U.S. Combined Forces Command (CFC) were dual-hatted as UNC personnel.  And in recent years, UNC created and opened up positions to include the Deputy Commander of UNC for other Sending State personnel.  This growth in UNC’s structure has caused some concern in the ROK Government and military.  But the issues have been more about how the growth will be managed than the need for UNC.

UNC’s Future:  A Role in a Korean Peace Settlement.

Until a “final peace settlement is achieved,” UNC will remain to ensure the stability that the Armistice affords.  As the current road to a peace settlement continues to build, there are several ways that UNC, its 17 Sending States, and the NNSC can transform to support a peace process. 

A peace settlement that will end the Armistice Agreement does not have to mean the end of the United Nations Command.  There are several reasons why the United Nations Command would remain relevant during a peace process that could lead to the signing of a peace agreement.

1.  There is still international legitimacy for the United Nations Command.  As described earlier, UNSCR 83’s “to restore international peace and security in the area” remains in effect.  This is often overlooked but would be an important and relevant reason for a UNC role in a peace process.  The United Nations Command exists as an international group of nations committed to the peaceful resolution of the Korean Armistice Agreement.  In a peace process, UNC could remain an international body to maintain stability that would give the peace process room to develop.

2.  UNC is uniquely experienced to negotiate with the North Korean People’s Army (KPA).  No matter how the Korean Armistice ends, there will be a need to negotiate the dissolution of the DMZ.  UNC has the unique experience and personnel who have worked issues along the DMZ for several decades.  The key leaders and experts have been trained to negotiate with the KPA.  They understand the KPA negotiation style and modus operandi.  UNCMAC has the linguist, operational expertise, and knowledge to negotiate with the KPA. 

These experiences and skills took UNC years to develop.  Because the KPA keep their key personnel for years and even decades, they already have more experience.  So, to dismantle the UNC team would give North Korea an advantage and the initiative at a crucial time in negotiating with the KPA. 

3.  There is a role for the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission.  NNSC could adjust its original mission of observing force build up on the Korean Peninsula to being an international neutral body for disarmament.  The NNSC has shown decades of commitment in being neutral bodies for maintaining stability under the Armistice Agreement.  Even though North Korea no longer officially recognizes this group, Pyongyang has a familiarity with this organization and may be more accepting of the NNSC as a group that is already in place to provide neutral observations of disarmament.  The mission also could lead to NNSC’s neutral observation of dismantling North Korean nuclear and missile sites.

South Korea and the United Nations Command Going Forward.

There are several roads to get to a peace destination, and along the way there will be several variables, obstacles, enablers, and conditions.  Many of these will be outside of UNC’s control and authorities.  However, there are several ways that UNC can help its 18 Member States, including South Korea and the United States, get there.  The main factor will be the trust between South Korea and the United Nations Command. 

For its part, the United Nations Command has opportunities to continue showing its strong desire to support South Korea in its engagements and initiatives with North Korea that could lead to a peace settlement.  The UNC also has the opportunity to clearly communicate that it views this support of South Korea and its role in maintaining the stability that the Armistice Agreement provides as mutually supportive.  One of the main risks that UNC will need to manage is all the voices from its 18 Member States and the three voices from the NNSC.  And the U.S., as the designated leader of UNC, has to balance its UNC obligations and its bilateral relationship with South Korea.

South Korea should seize two opportunities.  First, South Korea should take advantage of UNC’s mission and authorities that frees up South Korea to focus on other military issues with North Korea.  Second, Seoul should pursue an active campaign of garnering support from the 17 Sending States and the NNSC.  This would allow Seoul to show a desire to welcome this international support and goodwill.  Seoul would also be taking the initiative in shaping support to better meet its needs. 

The one thing that would lead to a fractured front against North Korea would be a simmering of distrust on our side of the MDL that could lead to conflicting actions or words.  Ultimately, such actions or words would give North Korea an advantage in negotiations toward a peace settlement to end the Korean Armistice Agreement.

About the author:

Colonel (Ret.) Steve Lee served 22 years as a U.S. Army Foreign Area Officer in various assignments in Korea and The Pentagon.  He served as a special assistant to two Commanders of the United Nations Command, the ROK-U.S. Combined Forces Command, and U.S. Forces Korea.  He is a former Army Attaché in the U.S. Embassy, Seoul.  Colonel Lee was the 38th Secretary of UNCMAC, who has been interviewed on NBC’s The Today Show and FOX News.  He has moderated and participated in numerous panels about Korea and the ROK-U.S. Alliance.  He is the Senior Vice President of the Korea Defense Veterans Association (KDVA), a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting the ROK-U.S. Alliance and the Veterans who built the Alliance and continue to serve it.

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Korea-US Alliance Foundation August Newsletter (Aug. 2020)

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North Korean Threat Requires New U.S. Pressure Campaign Targeting Pyongyang

“Maximum pressure 2.0” campaign employing all tools of national power “likely represents the only way to denuclearize North Korea without resorting to war,” new think tank report finds

 Includes recommendations related to diplomacy, military posture, cyber operations, sanctions, and information and influence activities


Washington, D.C., December 6 – The United States should target Pyongyang with a new “maximum pressure 2.0 campaign” that employs all tools of national power and seeks to persuade Kim Jong Un to relinquish the regime’s weapons of mass destruction, according to a new comprehensive report released today by the D.C.-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD).

In “Maximum Pressure 2.0: A Plan for North Korea,” six FDD experts explain that current U.S. policy has failed to persuade Kim to denuclearize and assess that the North Korean threat remains undiminished. Based on this, the authors recommend that the United States, working with its allies and partners, implement a “Plan B” integrating diplomacy, military posture, cyber operations, sanctions, and information and influence activities. While the experts acknowledge that this plan could increase tensions in the short-term, they suggest “such a campaign likely represents the only way to denuclearize North Korea without resorting to war.”

“Kim Jong Un’s nuclear and missile programs represent a grave threat to the U.S. and our allies, and we cannot allow him to drag-out the status quo indefinitely,” says co-editor Bradley Bowman, senior director of FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power. “In the short term, if Kim fails to demonstrate good faith with tangible steps toward relinquishing his nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, the United States should lead an aggressive and comprehensive new pressure campaign without delay.”

“Kim will give up his nuclear program only when he concludes that its cost to him and his regime is too great – that is, when he believes possession of nuclear weapons threatens his survival,” explains co-editor David Maxwell, FDD senior fellow and former planner with the ROK/U.S. Combined Forces Command. “But external pressure alone, although important, will almost certainly fail to create the right cost-benefit ratio. It is the threat from the North Korean elite, military, and people that is most likely to cause Kim to give up his nuclear weapons.”

  • In “Maximum Pressure 2.0: A Plan B for North Korea,” David Maxwell and Bradley Bowman provide context for the current crisis and an overview of the North Korean threat. The editors then summarize a “Plan B” for North Korea and explain why it is necessary. Each of the subsequent chapters include background and analysis sections, as well as specific recommendations for employing the respective tool of U.S. national power.
  • In “Aggressive Diplomacy,” authors Mathew Ha, David Maxwell, and Bradley Bowman warn Washington to avoid falling prey to the North Korean regime’s longstanding practice of diplomatic deception. Instead, they argue that the U.S. should lead an international diplomatic effort to shift Kim’s cost-benefit analysis and persuade him to agree to specific timetables for inspections, dismantlement, and verification for each nuclear and missile facility.
  • In “Military Deterrence and Readiness,” authors David Maxwell, Bradley Bowman, and Mathew Ha note the undiminished North Korean military threat and the pivotal deterrent role of American military power. They propose specific military steps to deter North Korean aggression, protect U.S. interests, empower effective diplomacy, and support a new maximum pressure campaign.
  • In “The Cyber Element,” authors Mathew Ha and Annie Fixler call for a U.S.-led cyber-enabled information and offensive cyber campaign targeting North Korea and the creation of a joint ROK-U.S. cyber task force.
  • In “U.S. Sanctions Against North Korea,” authors David Asher and Eric Lorber propose increasing economic pressure on Pyongyang including by revitalizing the North Korea Illicit Activities Initiative and designating the leadership of major Chinese banks engaging in prohibited transactions with North Korea.
  • In “Information and Influence Activities” (IIA), authors David Maxwell and Mathew Ha argue that an IIA campaign targeting the North Korean regime represents an essential new component for any U.S. policy that hopes to persuade Kim to relinquish his weapons of mass destruction.

The anthology represents the combined work of FDD’s three centers on American power: the Center for Cyber and Technology Innovation, the Center on Economic and Financial Power, and the Center on Military and Political Power.

About FDD:
The Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) is a Washington, DC-based non-partisan policy institute focusing on foreign policy and national security. Visit our website at www.fdd.org and connect with us on TwitterFacebook, and YouTube.


Maximum Pressure 2.0: A Plan B for North Korea

By David Maxwell and Bradley Bowman

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Executive Summary

North Korea’s nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons represent a grave threat to the United States and its allies. To convince North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to relinquish these weapons, the Trump administration initiated a “maximum pressure” campaign. This effort imposed significant economic costs on North Korea and incentivized Kim to come to the negotiating table. So far, however, this pressure has been insufficient to persuade him to denuclearize.

It is certainly possible that no level of pressure will persuade Kim to change course. But there is a need to test that proposition. The United States and its partners have not yet implemented a more aggressive and comprehensive maximum pressure campaign that targets Kim’s cost-benefit analysis. Such a campaign likely represents the only way to denuclearize North Korea without resorting to war.1

This monograph proposes that the United States, working with its allies and partners, implement a “Plan B” to drive Kim to relinquish his nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. Such a campaign must integrate all tools of national power, including diplomacy, military, cyber, sanctions, and information and influence activities.

After setting the scene in the introductory chapter, this study includes a dedicated chapter on each of the five lines of effort that together should constitute a “maximum pressure 2.0” campaign. Each chapter is written by experts at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and provides background, analysis, and specific recommendations.

In the chapter titled “Aggressive Diplomacy,” Mathew Ha, David Maxwell, and Bradley Bowman warn against falling prey again to the North Korean regime’s longstanding practice of diplomatic deception. The authors note that Pyongyang routinely makes provocations both to advance its nuclear and missile capabilities and to win valuable concessions through negotiations. They also note that Pyongyang has violated every agreement it has reached over the last 20 years. The authors caution against additional presidential-level summits. Instead, they encourage the United States to redouble its efforts to jumpstart substantive working-level dialogues that establish specific timetables for the inspection, dismantlement, and verification of each nuclear and missile facility. In order to build necessary unity with South Korea and Japan while shaming China and Russia for obstructionism, the authors emphasize the importance of a comprehensive public diplomacy campaign that provides America leverage in its standoff with Pyongyang.

In the chapter titled “Military Deterrence and Readiness,” David Maxwell, Bradley Bowman, and Mathew Ha emphasize the importance of South Korea-U.S. military readiness in deterring North Korean aggression, protecting U.S. interests, empowering effective diplomacy, and supporting a maximum pressure campaign. The authors note that the North Korean military threat has not decreased. They also note the assessment of the U.S. Department of Defense’s 2019 Missile Defense Review that North Korea has “neared the time when” it could “threaten the U.S. homeland with missile attack.” The authors propose several specific steps to strengthen allied military readiness, protect U.S. national security interests, and support a maximum pressure 2.0 campaign. In the end, they note, American power is what deters North Korea.

In the chapter titled “The Cyber Element,” Mathew Ha and Annie Fixler note that Pyongyang continues to employ an aggressive cyber campaign to generate revenue and conduct intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. The authors call for a U.S.-led cyber-enabled information and offensive cyber campaign targeting North Korea. They propose specific cyber-related actions against China, Russia, and other countries to persuade them to dismantle North Korea’s cyber network. To help carry out these efforts, the authors call for the creation of a joint South Korea-U.S. cyber task force.

In the chapter titled “U.S. Sanctions Against North Korea,” David Asher and Eric Lorber detail the existing sanctions regime targeting North Korea. The authors describe Pyongyang’s efforts, working with Chinese entities and others, to circumvent these sanctions. The authors propose specific measures to increase the economic pressure on Pyongyang. Examples include revitalizing the North Korea Illicit Activities Initiative, designating the leadership of major Chinese banks that engage in prohibited transactions with North Korea, hardening small banks against North Korean sanctions evasion, and targeting joint ventures. In short, there is more room to squeeze the North Korean regime.

In the chapter titled “Information and Influence Activities,” David Maxwell and Mathew Ha argue that aggressive information and influence activities represent an essential component of a successful maximum pressure 2.0 campaign. The authors believe that external pressure alone is unlikely to persuade Kim to denuclearize. They recommend a number of specific information and influence activities targeting North Korea’s regime elite, second-tier leadership, and general population. These activities would seek to foster Kim’s perception that the security of his rule will continue to deteriorate until he decides to relinquish his nuclear weapons. Even if information and influence activities do not yield the desired outcome, these tools can prove useful in the event of renewed military conflict.

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America and South Korea Must Negotiate a Fair Extension of the SMA

“It is in the interest of the U.S. and South Korea to negotiate a fair extension of the SMA that does not raise accusations among the Korean population that the U.S. is a mercenary force in their country while also addressing concerns of the U.S. that its allies shoulder as much of their own defense burden as possible.”


The National Interest  |  By Thomas Byrne Walter L. Sharp

Contentious talks to renew the U.S.-South Korea military cost-sharing agreement threatens to strain an over six-decade alliance, one that advances key American interests and serves as the cornerstone of peace and security in one of the world’s most important regions. 

This comes at a critical time with North Korea ramping up its conventional weapons threats to South Korea and Japan. Talks this week in Seoul ended prematurely when the U.S. cut short negotiations arguing that the South Koreas “were not responsive to our request for fair and equitable burden-sharing,” while the South cited “quite a big difference in principle.”

Since 1991 the U.S. and South Korea have negotiated multiyear Special Measures Agreements (SMA) that govern how costs are shared for the 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in Korea. When the previous agreement expired at the end of 2018, talks proved so difficult that a makeshift one-year agreement was all that could be managed. Nonetheless, South Korea agreed to raise its contribution 8.2% to KRW 1.04 trillion (almost $900 million), which covers about 50% of local basing costs, a bottom-line target for the U.S. last year.

U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris has stated that “Korea, like other allies, can and should do more.”  In one regard Ambassador Harris is right: the cost of deterring North Korea’s relentless weapons build-up continually increases the cost of common defense.

But the Korean press has reported that the U.S. “ask” is for South Korea to increase its annual contribution five-fold (to nearly $5 billion), while the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs is seeking a “reasonable and equitable” increase. Closing such a large gap would be extremely challenging politically for the South.  And it is worth noting that some in Congress, such as U.S. Senator Jack Reed, a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, have praised South Korea’s contribution.

Are the U.S. demands fair or are they mercenary? And is South Korea a “free rider,” a country that scrimps on its own defense spending and overly depends on allies?  Let’s look at how South Korea measures up.

First, South Korea’s numbers show that it is not shirking its defense burden. It spent 2.6 % of GDP in 2018 on its defense budget, and plans to spend 2.9% by 2022. That far outpaces the NATO benchmark of 2% and eclipses the levels spent by Germany, 1.2%, and Japan, 0.9% (the U.S was 3.2%). 

Second, South Korea is the third-largest purchaser of military goods from the U.S. –  $6.7 billion from 2008 to 2017 – and it does not seek subsidies from U.S. taxpayers for its purchases, unlike Israel and Egypt. South Korea is ramping up its defense spending to localize its defense capability and raise its military posture. 

Third, South Korea shouldered around 90% of the $11 billion capital expenditure for the consolidation of U.S. bases south of the Han River to Camp Humphreys, forming America’s “largest power projection platform in the Pacific,” according to the Defense Department. And South Korea does not charge rent. 

Moreover, South Korea has demonstrated that it is a dependable ally supporting U.S. military actions in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq in the past and most recently agreeing to a U.S. request to send a naval destroyer to guard merchant ships in the Strait of Hormuz.

Even though the evidence shows that South Korea is not a “free rider,” does that alone justify maintaining the alliance?  

Yes. Much is at stake in maintaining global order. The 66-year U.S.-South Korea alliance has kept the peace and maintained geopolitical conditions for mutual prosperity. South Korea is America’s sixth-largest trade partner and its major corporations are increasingly investing in the U.S, creating high-paying jobs for American workers. A prosperous South Korea is good for America. 

It is in the interest of the U.S. and South Korea to negotiate a fair extension of the SMA that does not raise accusations among the Korean population that the U.S. is a mercenary force in their country while also addressing concerns of the U.S. that its allies shoulder as much of their own defense burden as possible. Polling shows that Korea’s highly favorable perception of the U.S. has taken a big hit. And the Korean government is hyper-sensitive to public opinion. 

There is too much at stake for the U.S. to ask for too much, and thus risk alienating a responsible and reliable ally, and for South Korea to not pay its fair share given the wealth that Korea has achieved thanks to the security ensured by the U.S. military presence. Creative negotiations could strengthen, not weaken, the alliance.

At a congressional hearing in July, members of Congress expressed concern that the failure of the SMA talks could lead to the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Korea, a result China and Russia would welcome. That would probably be the death knell of the alliance.

Thomas Byrne is President and CEO of The Korea Society, and former Asia Pacific/Middle East Regional Manager at Moody’s Sovereign Risk Group. 

General (Ret) Walter L. Sharp is former UNC/CFC/USFK Commander, a Director of The Korea Society and the current Chairman of the Korea Defense Veterans Association.

Download: America and South Korea Must Negotiate a Fair Extension of the SMA – National Interest – Byrne and Sharp

Article Link: https://nationalinterest.org/blog/korea-watch/america-and-south-korea-must-negotiate-fair-extension-sma-97552

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KDVA Supports Regional Stability and GSOMIA

The Korea Defense Veterans Association supports the ROK-U.S. Alliance as the linchpin for stability and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula and the region. Part of that stability is deterring North Korea and any other nation from taking actions that could weaken the security of the region.

KDVA believes that the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) between the Republic of Korea and Japan has an important part in supporting regional security by facilitating the exchange of sensitive military information for both countries.

The termination of this agreement would benefit North Korea at a time when the Kim regime is looking to take advantage of any rift in the relationship between the Republic of Korea, United States, and Japan.

KDVA urges all parties to work together for the greater goal of security and prosperity in the region.

For our part, we will increase our efforts for improving these ties. Only by working together to resolve our issues can we maintain the security that has benefited the people of South Korea, Japan, and the United States.

“Together for the ROK-U.S. Alliance”

 

Walter L. Sharp
General, U.S. Army (Ret)
President and Chairman of the Board

Korea Defense Veterans Association

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