Negotiations for the armistice spanned over two years (1951-1953), the longest negotiated armistice in history.
Over those two years, representatives from UNC, the Korean People’s Army (KPA), and Chinese People’s Volunteer Army (CPVA) met in Kaesong and later, Panmunjom. Among the prominent members of the UNC negotiating team was General Paik, Sun-yup, famed South Korean army leader. There were 158 meetings before any of the parties agreed to sign the document. During the meetings, all parties sought to make an agreement that would suspend open hostilities, arrange the release and repatriation of prisoners of war and establish a separation of forces.
In the final meeting, the armistice agreement accomplished those goals and established the Military Armistice Commission, as well as other commissions to oversee the truce terms and negotiate settlement of any armistice violations. Additionally, the armistice established the peninsula-wide demilitarized zone to provide a buffer between military forces.
On July 27, 1953, military commanders from the United States (representing the United Nations Command), the Korean People’s Army, and Chinese People’s Volunteer Army signed the Korean Armistice Agreement, ending roughly three years of fighting of the 1950-1953 Korean War. The Korean Armistice Agreement is unique because although it is an agreement signed by military commanders, it was formally adopted in the UN General Assembly on August 28, 1953. The agreement served as the military ceasefire necessary to afford negotiating space for a final, diplomatic peace agreement. In 1954, Geneva, Switzerland hosted peace talks, but no formal peace treaty was signed. Thus, the Korean Peninsula technically remains in a state of war, with UNC upholding its commitment to the Armistice Agreement.
The Armistice Agreement created a Military Demarcation Line (MDL) at the last line of contact between the opposing forces. To separate combat forces, both sides withdrew two kilometers from the MDL to form a four kilometer wide Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), which runs 241 kilometers across the width of the Korean peninsula. Both sides were permitted access to their two-kilometer portion of the DMZ, but were prohibited from crossing the MDL without approval from the other side.
The signatories of the Armistice Agreement intended the agreement to facilitate a more permanent, peaceful settlement. In the meantime, the Armistice Agreement is a "living document." Paragraph 62 of the Agreement permits "mutually acceptable amendments and additions." This process allows subsequent agreements to be added to the Armistice Agreement in order to reflect the current situation on the Korean peninsula.
The Armistice Agreement established three commissions and created physical mechanisms to implement the Agreement. The Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission completed its mission with the repatriation of prisoners of war in 1953. The Military Armistice Commission (MAC) was established per paragraph 19 of the Armistice Agreement "to supervise the implementation of this Armistice Agreement and to settle through negotiations any violations of this Armistice Agreement."
The Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission
The Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (NNSC) was established in accordance with paragraphs 36 and 37 of the Armistice Agreement and was originally composed of four senior officers from “neutral nations,” (or non-combatants) -- two nominated by the UNC and two by the Korean People’s Army and Chinese People’s Volunteer Army. The NNSC's primary function is to conduct independent compliance inspections and investigations of Armistice Agreement violations outside the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and to report its findings to the Military Armistice Commission.