This is the second in a series of articles to mark the 60th anniversary of the armistice agreement that halted the 1950-53 Korean War. -- Ed.
PANMUNJEOM -- The armistice has been the foundation of peace on the peninsula and South Korea’s economic and political development over the last six decades, a senior member of the U.N. Command Military Armistice Commission said.
During a recent interview with The Korea Herald, Major Gen. Chun In-bum urged North Korea to fulfill its part of the agreement, noting Pyongyang had repeatedly challenged it through border infiltrations and other provocations since the armistice was signed on July 27, 1953.
“At the end of hostilities during the Korean War, many Koreans were not agreeable to the armistice because we wanted unification. But looking back at 60 years of the armistice, we now see a prosperous Korea,” he said during the interview at the inter-Korean border village.
“We are now contributing to the peace of the Northeast Asian region. All of this can be found from the armistice agreement.”
For the U.N. Command, maintaining the armistice has not been an easy task as Pyongyang has constantly sought to make it null and void.
In 1994, Pyongyang withdrew all communist representatives from the MAC, undermining its role of maintaining the armistice. Amid its menacing war threats earlier this year, the unpredictable state even declared it would scrap the armistice.
Chun pointed out such moves came due in part to Pyongyang’s growing sense of inferiority, compared with an increasingly sturdy South Korean military backed by its longtime ally, the U.S.
“They are more concerned about the fact that the Republic of Korea has now grown so much that they’re afraid to talk to us directly. If they thought they were stronger, they would not have any problem talking to the ROK,” he said.
“Unless they do this (keep the armistice), they lose credibility in the world and they can’t do business. And they need to realize that the armistice is the first international agreement that they made. No wonder their people are starving.”
The UNCMAC chief said the North’s repeated attempts at scrapping the armistice and holding direct talks with Washington were “very wrong and not workable anymore.
“The U.S. is not going to talk to them directly, leaving out the Republic of Korea,” he said.
“North Korea needs to know that the world has changed, the Korean Peninsula has changed, and that their relationship with the world has changed. So they need to come into the 21st century.”
Pyongyang’s string of saber-rattling moves earlier this year sharply raised tensions along the heavily-armed border, one of the last remaining vestiges of the Cold War. It conducted a third nuclear test in February and spewed out a slew of belligerent statements threatening the security of the U.S. and its allies.
Chun said this level of tension had been around since the 1990s, underscoring the impoverished state sought to damage South Korean society and gain concessions through its military adventurism.
“What does North Korea want with all of this? It wants to create tension and instability, it wants to affect our social, economic, political daily life, and from there, achieve concessions,” he said.
“So I think the most important thing for Koreans is not to be indifferent to North Korea, but to be calm and keep our cool, and have confidence in the fact that we are ready, we are prepared.”
Following the latest belligerent rhetoric, Pyongyang has sought dialogue with Washington over the agenda of a peace treaty and military tensions. The overture has failed to attract the U.S. and South Korea, which urged it, with a united front, to show sincerity first in its denuclearization.
Chun said that from the North’s perspective, a peace treaty entails the pullout of all foreign troops -- a precondition that would be “very uncomfortable” for the South to accept.
“The only problem with this whole process (of seeking a peace treaty) is the notion North Korea has about a peace treaty. They have always put a precondition -- all foreign troops should be withdrawn from the Korean Peninsula,” he said.
“Without a better arrangement with North Korea, it is very uncomfortable for us to accept a peace treaty which involves the withdrawal before peace is truly formed on the peninsula.”
Apart from the North’s denuclearization, he pointed to a series of conditions that should be met for genuine peace to settle here.
“I would like to see some more reduction of troops along the Demilitarized Zone. The North has 70 percent of its troops concentrated there. The long range artillery that targets the greater Seoul metropolitan area ...it could be easily eliminated,” he said.
“Mutual inspections of guard-posts within the DMZ are also important because we believe these are where the tunnels are.”
Speaking on the Korea-U.S. alliance, Chun highly evaluated its contribution to ensuring security in the region and beyond.
“I cannot express how important this alliance has been. It has provided deterrence, which led to a stable security environment where we could grow economically, politically and socially,” he said.
“I hope the Korean people can look at the whole picture, and not just the parts about American troops in Korea. Yes, we have problems but it’s not the whole picture. So I hope that people can have a balanced view and make the right kind of decisions.”
Since he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1981, Chun has served in a variety of top field and military policy organizations including the 22nd Infantry Division, Defense Ministry, Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command.
By Song Sang-ho (email@example.com