Jang-Hyun PaikOperational Research Committee Chairman,Catholic Institute of Northeast Asia Peace Most people are unfamiliar with the United Nations (UN) Command in Korea. So, what is the UN Command, anyway? And, why would South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol make an extreme statement denouncing the former South Korean administration and the current opposition party as “anti-state forces” destabilizing the UN Command? At the Korea Freedom Federation’s June 28th event, President Yoon said, "Anti-state forces… begged for the lifting of U.N. Security Council sanctions on the communist group of North Korea, which is advancing its nuclear armament. They sang for an end-of-war declaration dissolving the UN Command. It was a chorus for an end-of-war declaration aimed at blocking the automatic activation of the UN Command and its military strength in the event of another North Korean invasion, and a hollow claim of fake peace that we should trust the goodwill of an enemy seeking to invade us.” President Yoon's remarks are both shocking, in that they distort the facts, and also problematic in that the opposition party is labeled an “anti-state force.” UN Flag (UN Command in Korea) © Photo courtesy of News1 It is neither true that the UN Command will be disbanded in the event of an "end-of-war declaration” nor that, if the UN Command is present at the time of a North Korean invasion, all participating countries will automatically go to war. An end-of-war declaration, proposed for discussion by US President George W. Bush in November 2006, was an idea for a non-binding, political declaration to induce North Korea to denuclearize before signing a formal peace treaty. An end-of-war declaration is relevant to the UN Command, which exists in the state of armistice, but it is a logical leap to argue that a political end-of-war declaration would directly lead to the UN Command’s dissolution. In fact, the United States may actually strengthen the UN Command after discussing an end-of-war declaration. It is false to claim that if North Korea invades the South all of the nations who participate in the UN Command, including the United States, would automatically go to war. Each UN Command member country has its own requisite, domestic procedure, such as parliamentary ratification, to participate in war. There are a number of variables involved in this process. Origin and Changes in the UN Command So, what is the UN Command, anyway? And why does South Korean President Yoon view those who criticize the UN Command as “anti-state forces”? When the Korean War erupted in 1950, the UN Command was formed by UN Security Council resolution (No. 1588), enabling the free world’s participation in the Korean War. When the Korean War Armistice Agreement was signed in 1953, the UN Command was transformed from an agent of war into the steward of the armistice. Because the Armistice Agreement was signed by the UN Command, the Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army (North Korea), and the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army Command, the UN Command assumed responsibility for managing the armistice agreement in the southern part of the Korean Peninsula. Because the Republic of Korea (ROK, South Korea) was excluded from the armistice signing, their army assumed no legal authority. From 1953 until the ROK-US Combined Forces Command was established in 1978, the UN Command exercised operational control over the US Forces in Korea (USFK) and ROK forces, overseeing enforcement of the armistice agreement and the defense of South Korea. UN Command and USFK Command Headquarters, Camp Humphreys, Pyeongtaek (Photo courtesy of VOA) The UN Command’s status changed significantly in the early 1970s due to international changes. When China became a permanent member of the UN Security Council, in place of Taiwan, and many third-world, non-aligned nations joined the UN, the United States’ influence on the UN stage was weakened. The Communist bloc insisted on dismantling the UN Command and withdrawing US troops from Korea. Bringing the war on the Korean Peninsula to an end with a peace treaty became a hot topic at the 30th UN General Assembly in November 1975. Amidst sharp disagreement between the Communist and Liberal blocs, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution requesting the dissolution of the UN Command and withdrawal of UN troops. In response, the US handed over the mission of defending South Korea to the newly established ROK-US Combined Forces Command, and the UN Command was only entrusted with the responsibility of enforcing the terms of the Armistice Agreement. This process led to the birth of the current arrangement, where a four-star US Army general concurrently serves as the commander of the USFK, the ROK-US Combined Forces Command, and the UN Command. The UN Command has again become an object of controversy because of the issue of transferring wartime operational control (OPCON). With the transfer of OPCON from the US to the ROK, the ROK-US Combined Forces Command will change to the Future Command, and as an ROK general takes over as commander, the US will once again strengthen the status of the UN Command. Since 2014, the United States has steadily expanded the organization, manpower, and function of the UN Command, despite the claim that the organization is simply nominal. These expansions are due to the intention of maintaining the USFK’s role through the UN, even after OPCON transfer. Some in the US argue that the UN Command should have operational command over all UN Command forces, including ROK and US forces in Korea. UN Command Controversy South Korean society intensified criticism of the UN Command because of its frequent violation of South Korea’s sovereignty, under the pretext of enforcing the Armistice Agreement. The Armistice Agreement only gives the UN Command the authority to grant or deny access of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) related to matters “of military nature,” but, controversially, the UN Command has also interfered with non-military access of the DMZ. Some examples include prohibiting on-site investigation of the northern section of the North-South Railway Gyeongui Line in August 2018, prohibiting field investigation of the area south of the Taebong-guk Cheorwon Castle site and monitoring post in June 2019, prohibiting visiting reporter access to Daesong-dong village in August 2019, and prohibiting the torch relay in the joint security area commemorating the 100th National Sports Festival in October 2019. Whenever people are denied access to the DMZ, they are asked to prove their “safety,” without a standard definition. In each case, the so-called UN Command, interfered with mutually agreed upon inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation. Non only Koreans, but also people of goodwill the world over, agree that the armistice, which has been in place for more than 70 years, should be replaced with a peace treaty, establishing peace on the Korean Peninsula. It’s reasonable therefore, to adjust the status of the UN Command accordingly. It is reasonable that the UN Command, which was created to fight the Korean War and has since played a role in enforcing the Armistice Agreement, would be abolished at the end of the war with the conclusion of a peace treaty. However, some conservatives claim that because the UN Command was founded under United States’ leadership in accordance with a UN Security Council resolution, and because the UN Command reports to the US government, who appoints its commander, the issue of disbanding the UN Command is up to the US government. By that reasoning, even if the Armistice Agreement ends, the UN Command could insistently remain on the Korean Peninsula, supervising the implementation of and compliance with the peace agreement, or carrying out new peacekeeping activities. But, such far-fetched claims are indefensible. If the UN Command continues to violate power, public opinion in South Korea continues to decline, and controversy about the UN Command’s existence continues to grow, it will not serve the national interest of either Korea or the United States. Even if not in the form of the UN Command, US forces can be stationed in Korea according to the Mutual Defense Treaty between the ROK and United States. It would not be difficult to persuade neighboring countries that those troops serve to play a strategic geopolitical balancing role in Northeast Asia. Still, it would be wiser for the UN Command to try to win the hearts of Korean people involved, rather than using the logic of force.