After over three years of intense fighting, the Korean War came to an unofficial end on 27 July 1953 with the signing of the Agreement Concerning a Military Armistice in Korea. The Agreement stipulated the withdrawal of military forces from a demilitarised zone which was created as a buffer between North and South, dividing the peninsula in two. Although it ended the fighting and serves as the only legal instrument for the avoidance of renewed hostilities, the Agreement did not provide a resolution to the conflict. It did, however, establish the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (NNSC), an unarmed military observer mission, and the Military Armistice Committee (MAC), a ten-person committee of military personnel, to verify implementation and provide a mechanism for dialogue across the lines should the need arise.1 Owing to the high levels of international involvement in the conflict, the NNSC was composed of four theoretically neutral nations selected by the belligerents: Sweden, Switzerland, Poland, and Czechoslovakia.2 The MAC includes five representatives selected by the North and five from the South.
Between 1953 and 1956, hundreds of NNSC personnel verified compliance with the ceasefire and the demilitarised zone, monitored the rotation of units along the front line (passing such information to both sides as a confidence building measure), and inspected freight at ports of entry across the peninsula for arms shipments.3 These activities helped to reduce tensions and lower the risk of armed conflict in the years immediately after the conflict. In 1956, inspection responsibilities were removed from the NNSC’s mandate, and the Commission was significantly reduced in size. Between 1953 and 1991, full meetings of the MAC were convened 459 times, while thousands more occurred among the lower ranks. These regular meetings helped to maintain dialogue between the belligerents and served as a mechanism for disputes to be discussed and resolved peacefully.4 The transition of Czechoslovakia and Poland from communism at the end of the Cold War led North Korea to dismiss them as its representatives on the NNSC, forcing it to suspend most of its activities in February 1995. A small team has remained to gather and exchange intelligence, while meetings are occasionally held between the NNSC states.5 The MAC continues to operate.