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Time to End the Seven-Decade-Long Korean War

27 July marks the 67th anniversary of the signing of the Korean War Armistice Agreement. Even as we commemorate the anniversary of the ceasefire, the possibility of renewed tension marks inter-Korean relations, and the DPRK-US negotiation has been at a standstill due to Washington’s policy of maximum pressure.

photo of two hands making double victory signs with their fingers
Image credit: WILPF
YouKyoung Ko
27 July 2020

27 July marks the 67th anniversary of the signing of the Korean War Armistice Agreement. Even as we commemorate the anniversary of the ceasefire, the possibility of renewed tension marks inter-Korean relations, and the DPRK-US negotiation has been at a standstill due to Washington’s policy of maximum pressure. Tensions between South and North Korea last month ended in the destruction of the inter-Korean liaison office, which had been established as a result of the historic inter-Korean summit at Panmunjom in 2018. Without resolving the root cause of the tension – the unresolved 70-year-old Korean War and ongoing hostile relations – it can re-escalate at any time.

The root cause of the tension

Korea was liberated in 1945 after 36 years of Japan’s brutal colonisation. Shortly after liberation, the country was divided by the United States and the Soviet Union into south and north along the 38th parallel. Despite the desire of the Korean people to establish a single government, the negotiation between Washington and Moscow failed to establish a unified government and resulted in two separate states in 1948: the Republic of Korea (ROK) in the south, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in the north. This was the precursor to the Korean War (1950-1953).

The US and 15 other countries sent combat forces to the ROK (South Korea) to repel the north. In turn, China sent its volunteer army to support the DPRK (North Korea) and prevent the US-led forces from marching up toward its territory. Heavy bombing devastated the Korean Peninsula, and 3 million people (including 2 million civilians) died or disappeared. Millions of people were unable to return to their homes, and hundreds of thousands of families became separated. After 3 years of fighting and destruction, the war was paused with the signing of an Armistice Agreement between the US and the DPRK on 27 July 1953.

The tragic division of the peninsula, the aftermath of the brutal war, and the subsequent state of the armistice all contributed to decades of political and military confrontations and hostile relations. It has caused Koreans both on the peninsula and in the worldwide diaspora to endure an interminable period of pain. Families remain separated after 70 years, and survivors of civilian massacres during the war are still unable to speak freely about what they endured.

Who has benefited from the endless state of the armistice?

Under ensuing decades of hostile relations, a growing military industrial complex and all those linked to it in the US, South Korea and the rest of the world have used this ongoing conflict for their own benefit – in the name of national and global security. South Korea has become an overseas testing ground for the US military’s new weapon systems, such as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile system and the Joint United States Forces Korea Portal and Integrated Threat Recognition (JUPITR) program led by the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical and Biological Defense. The continual military build-up of high-tech weaponry, including nuclear weapons, and hostilities between the DPRK, the ROK, and the US create dangerous circumstances where even a small, possibly accidental incident can lead to the outbreak of another full-blown war. We cannot and must not make the mistake of repeating the tragedy of another fratricidal war.

Ending the Korean war would break the vicious cycle of the arms race and allow all parties to shift resources for human security and sustainable development. The COVID-19 pandemic has made cooperation beyond borders all the more urgent and important. The two Koreas should be working together to respond to the pandemic for the good of the world and advance sustainable development for basic human needs in the region. And the international community should lift relevant sanctions on the DPRK to promote inter-Korean cooperation for COVID-19 response.

In 2018 there were three inter-Korean summits and the first-ever US-DPRK summit. The South Korean government actively reached out to the North Korean government, which responded by participating in the winter Olympics in South Korea. The decision by the ROK and the US to cancel the annual US-ROK combined military exercise that spring created the conditions for dialogue. To keep up the momentum toward new relations, the DPRK announced its decision to stop all nuclear and ICBM missile tests and shut down its nuclear test site as a confidence-building measure. The South and North’s militaries signed a comprehensive military agreement in accordance with the Panmunjom Declaration. The inter-Korean military agreement includes to completely cease all hostile acts against each other in every domain as well as devise substantive military measures to transform the Demilitarised Zone into a peace zone. Accordingly, both militaries collectively disarmed the Joint Security Area (Panmunjom) and started dismantling guard posts and removing landmines in the Demilitarised Zone, which had been intensively militarised for decades due to the unresolved war.

The two Koreas couldn’t make further progress, however, due to the deadlock in the DPRK-US negotiation. Many inter-Korean projects that the two leaders had agreed on couldn’t be carried out due to US and UN sanctions and the US’ insistence that the ROK coordinate the pace of its talks with the DPRK to coincide with its own. North Korea expressed frustration with South Korea for failing to adhere to commitments made in their 2018 summit agreements, including halting defector groups from sending airborne propaganda leaflets across the border. Tensions flared when North Korea destroyed the inter-Korean liaison office in response in June 2020. Fortunately, the tension has eased through the efforts of both governments to keep the spirit of their inter-Korean agreements alive.

To prevent the re-escalation of tension, we must end the 70-year-old Korean War

The international women-led campaign Korea Peace Now! Women Mobilizing to End the War has been organising actions across the world via virtual meetings, conferences and webinars despite the many challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The campaign, of which WILPF is a partner, issued a statement on 27 July, the 67th anniversary of the signing of the Korean War armistice agreement, to urge an end to the Korean War with a peace agreement. On 23 June, Women Cross DMZ, one of the campaign partners, released a statement on the sharply mounting tensions between the two Koreas. The Korean Women’s Movement for Peace, another campaign partner, held a press conference on 24 May, the International Women’s Day for Peace and Disarmament. In addition to women’s voices, we need global supporters who will speak out and amplify our call for confidence-building measures and cooperation for peace on the Korean peninsula and in the region. Please join the Korea Peace Now! campaign.

On 27 July, civil society and faith groups in South Korea announced their launch of the Korea Peace Appeal to End the War. The campaign intends to gather 100 million signatures within 3 years from supporters around the world, and present the appeal to the United Nations and all countries that were involved in the Korean War. I encourage you to join the Korea Peace Appeal to End the War.

By ending the seven-decade-old Korean War, we can create a new sustainable future for the next generation, one which our grandparents might have dreamed of seventy years ago.

Let us come together to create this new future for Korea and the world.

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YouKyoung Ko

YouKyoung Ko is a consultant for the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) and the women-led Korea Peace Now! Campaign launched in 2019 to end the Korean war with a peace agreement. She is a standing committee member of the Korea Peace Appeal Campaign launched in 2020. She is an expert on impacts of US-ROK alliance and US military presence in South Korea.

Melissa Torres


Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani


Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo


Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

IPB Congress Barcelona

WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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