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[Editorial] Collective response

S. Korea holds first defense ministerial meeting with 17 UNC member states

By Korea Herald

Published : Nov. 17, 2023 - 05:30

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The United Nations Command was established under United Nations Security Council resolutions following North Korea’s invasion into South Korea in 1950.

It is still stationed in South Korea, because the Korean War has not ended yet, though 70 years have passed after the signing of an armistice agreement.

The US-led UNC has played a major role in protecting the liberal democracy of South Korea from communist North Korean aggressors. It commanded UN Forces during the war and its commander signed the armistice agreement on July 27, 1953.

The very nature of the UNC is why North Korea has persisted in demanding its dissolution.

The previous government under President Moon Jae-in pursued a declaration of the end of the Korean War under the pretext of improving relations between Seoul and Pyongyang. But declaration of the end of the war provides grounds for North Korea’s demand for the UNC dissolution.

If North Korea invades the South again, UNC forces would then not intervene automatically. It is dangerous behavior that will knock down an axis of South Korean national security. In a situation where North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats have grown too huge to ward off easily, the UNC is a strong deterrent that can break the North’s will to invade. It is indispensable to strengthen its presence.

Senior defense officials from South Korea, the US and 16 other UNC member states held their meeting in Seoul, Tuesday. South Korean Defense Minister Shin Won-sik and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin attended the meeting.

In a joint statement, they vowed a collective response to the North’s hostile acts or armed aggression that threaten South Korean security. They also demanded the North suspend its nuclear and missile programs.

Fourteen UNC member states -- the US, the UK, France, Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands, Greece, Turkey, the Philippines, Thailand, Colombia, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa -- contributed combat troops during the war, and three countries -- Italy, Norway and the Denmark -- provided medical assistance.

It is significant that they showed solidarity and the will to protect South Korea in case of emergency 70 years after fighting together against aggressors from North Korea and China.

The UNC props up the security of South Korea together with its US alliance. The value of its existence has grown. And yet it has received relatively little attention compared to the Korea-US alliance.

The UNC has focused on the management of the armistice regime after transferring operational control to the ROK-US Combined Forces Command in 1978. ROK refers to the Republic of Korea, the official name of South Korea. It took too long -- 73 years -- until the first UNC meeting after the outbreak of war.

The command is essential to the defense of South Korea. It provides military resources of its member states promptly without UN Security Council resolutions in the event of contingencies on the Korean Peninsula.

The Ministry of National Defense needs to review ways to draw defense ministers of not only South Korea and the US but also of major member states to the next meeting.

In the days of the Moon administration, Germany is said to have expressed its intention to be the 18th member state of the UNC, but the National Defense of Ministry refused. Denmark wanted to be a UNC member that would contribute combat troops when a contingency breaks out on the Korean Peninsula, but the Moon administration refused this, too.

The Moon government cited that the countries did not take proper procedures, but it comes under criticism of trying to avoid offense to Pyongyang. If Germany were to become a member state, the entire Group of Seven aside from Japan will have joined the UNC.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un must keep in mind that if the North invades South Korea again, it will have to fight not only with the South, but also with 17 UNC member states.