This is the fourth in a series of articles to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the armistice agreement that ended the 1950-53 Korean War. ― Ed.
Building inter-Korean trust through dialogue is integral on the road toward reunification and enduring peace on the peninsula, said the chief of the Swedish delegation at the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission.
In an interview earlier this week, Rear Admiral Anders Grenstad stressed Pyongyang should rethink its nuclear program and stick to the armistice agreement if it wanted a peace treaty to replace it.
“If North Korea wants support from the rest of the world for its own people, they have to rethink,” Grenstad said during the interview at Yongsan Garrison in Seoul where the U.N. Command is headquartered.
“Before something replaces the armistice, there has to be much more trust between the South and North, trust with the North and those countries in the six-party talks... plus keeping promises of what you signed (the armistice agreement).”
Anders Grenstad (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)
The torrent of North Korean war threats this spring has further damaged inter-Korean trust and sharply raised military tensions, which were already aggravated after Pyongyang’s third nuclear test in February.
Berating Seoul and Washington for its annual war drills during the period, the reclusive state even threatened to scrap the armistice.
The former Swedish naval chief, who has worked at the NNSC for the last 27 months, stressed the important role of the armistice to ward off another armed conflict at a time of heightened tensions.
“The armistice agreement has served both Koreas well. Even in the spring here when North Korea said it was nullifying it, it still has been kept. Both sides have been playing 95 percent to the rules anyhow,” he said.
“I hope one day ― hope we don’t have to wait for another sixty years ― there will be at least a peace treaty between the North and South. So, you can downsize military sizes because that is costing a lot of money on both sides.”
The NNSC has been the only institution to oversee the implementation of the armistice agreement as an “impartial observer.” Despite Pyongyang’s relentless attempts at nullifying the agreement, the NNSC has continued its crucial task with a stance not skewed to any side.
“On the southern side (of the peninsula), we show that Korea and the U.S. have nothing to hide, but (being) defensive and (having a) deterrent and if the North provokes, you are ready to hit back ― a message we are sending (to the North) as an impartial observer,” he said.
“I can really say what I think is appropriate (as an impartial observer). Not even my foreign affairs ministry can say I am wrong because my order comes from the armistice agreement, the same for the Swiss general.”
The NNSC currently consists of five delegates each from Switzerland and Sweden. Each delegation is headed by a two-star officer. Based in Warsaw, two Polish members come here twice a year to retain its ties to the NNSC.
The NNSC was initially comprised of four nations ― then-Czechoslovakia, Poland, Switzerland and Sweden. The first two were picked by the communist side while the latter were chosen by the U.N.C.
When the North became increasingly isolated in the early and mid-1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the North started attempting to invalidate the armistice. In the process, Pyongyang forced out the Czech and Polish representatives from the NNSC.
When Grenstad first came here to lead the Swedish delegation, he felt somewhat frustrated as he could not communicate with the North and travel across the entire peninsula to oversee the armistice as mandated in the armistice.
“But we are ready to speak with North Korea whenever they want to. And our door and our building up in the Joint Security Area are always open to the North so they are welcome to talk to us,” he said.
When the NNSC opened in August 1953, 100 personnel from each of the four member states traveled together to check the entry of military cargo or troops at five ports each in the North and South.
Now, the NNSC operations are limited only to areas south of the military demarcation line. But NNSC members meet every day to discuss armistice-related issues and fulfill its missions.
With critics arguing that the armistice has already been in tatters with North Korea’s violations and threats to nullify it, some claim the NNSC might not have much to do. But it has undertaken a host of tasks under the U.N.C.’s direction in recent years.
Its tasks include observing the southern part of the Demilitarized Zone; South Korea-U.S. combined or South Korea-only military exercises; special investigations in case of defections from the North, repatriations and suicide cases within the DMZ; and checking figures on foreign military personnel in the South.
Grenstad is to leave office at the end of September. When back to Stockholm, he is to serve as a strategic advisor to the chairman of the Swedish Joint Chiefs of Staff. Before coming to head the NNSC Swedish delegation, he served as the chief of the Swedish Navy for six years.
By Song Sang-ho (email@example.com