North Korea is reportedly demanding that the United Nations Command (UNC) be left out of an inter-Korean organization to manage the Joint Security Area (JSA). The two Koreas are currently discussing rules to be applied to military personnel within the JSA, who would be able to freely travel across the military demarcation line (MDL) in accordance with the inter-Korean military agreement made in Sept. 19. During the talks, the North reportedly requested that the organization should not include personnel from the UNC but only those from the two Koreas, proposing the complete exclusion of the command, which has jurisdiction over the southern half of the JSA according to the Armistice Agreement following the Korean War.
This is not the first time that North Korea has tried to tear down the current Armistice Agreement system managed by the UNC. Under the law, the Commander of U.S. Forces Korea serves as the Commander of the UNC, but the command was a direct party to the armistice and has played the role of a manager to deter the North’s southward invasion. However, North Korea has equated the command with the U.S. forces and not recognized the UNC’s Military Armistice Commission in an effort to break the system established since the 1990s. North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho, in his recent speech at the U.N. General Assembly, said that “It (UNC) is merely a command of allied forces that only obeys the orders of the U.S., but the problem is that it is till misusing the sacred name of the U.N.”
The UNC is responsible for the compliance with and implementation of the Armistice Agreement. In fact, even though the two Koreas agreed on the military agreement in September, the agreement cannot take effect without the agreement of the UNC. Even if the armistice is terminated and a peace regime is established, the command is likely to be in charge of the management of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) including the JSA unless the two Koreas are reunified. In this sense, excluding the UNC from the JSA is an impossibility both legally and realistically.
North Korea earlier agreed on the establishment of a tripartite consultative body of the two Koreas and the UNC aimed at demilitarizing the JSA. Following the agreement, the consultative body has launched for the first time in history, eliminating firearms in the JSA and discussing the composition, duties, and the operation of the management organization. Some even said that the North started to respect the armistice as well as the UNC. Yet, behind the scenes, Pyongyang has been claiming that the command should be left out of the management group.
The regime’s strategy toward the South has been fairly consistent. It started with the disregard of the armistice system, the dissolution of the UNC, and went onto the signing of a peace treaty and the withdrawal of the U.S. Forces Korea. There was no shift in the strategy even in the reconciliatory mood between the two Koreas. The South Korean government should stay adamant in responding to the North’s ridiculous demand for the exclusion of a party with jurisdiction over the JSA. In addition, we should also reflect on ourselves to see whether there were times that we ignored or played down the command’s rights, helping the North to stick to its unreasonable position.