(Yonhap Interview) U.N. Command committed to role in allies’ ‘defensive’ drills for its mission to guard armistice, peace: deputy chief

PYEONGTAEK, South Korea, The deputy commander of the U.N. Command (UNC) stressed the significance of the upcoming South Korea-U.S. military exercise for peace on the peninsula, dismissing North Korea’s pugnacious rhetoric coupled with blatant threats of taking provocative acts in response.


Lt. Gen. Andrew Harrison pointed out that the Freedom Shield (FS) set to kick off Monday for a 11-day run is a routine training to “retain peace” with “very tight oversight,” speaking in an exclusive interview with Yonhap News Agency.

Tensions have been running high, as Pyongyang has threatened “overwhelming” measures to counter what it claims to be “preparations for a war of aggression” by the allies. The North has been highly sensitive to Washington’s deployment of such strategic assets as high-profile bombers, stealth fighter jets and aircraft carriers as well as the allies’ combined field maneuver.


“This routine training exercise is incredibly important for readiness,” he said during the interview held last Friday at the UNC headquarters in Camp Humphreys, a major U.S. military base in Pyeongtaek, located 65 kilometers south of Seoul. “I’ve heard (the North’s criticism), and I just fundamentally disagree.”


In that regard, Harrison emphasized the role of the UNC with a mission to secure a lasting peace on the peninsula by enforcing the 1953 Armistice Agreement that effectively ended the Korean War.


During the FS exercise, personnel from the command and the “sending states,” which sent troops or other forms of support during the Korean War, plan to practice crisis management and other contingency procedures — in line with the command’s primary role to maintain the armistice.


“In the early stages of an exercise, we look at the challenge to the armistice that might occur, and we always try and de-escalate back to a sort of pre-crisis position,” he said. “If crisis turns to conflict, we’re looking at how the sending states could operate together in whatever scenario.”


In particular, the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (NNSC) is poised to ensure the exercise will proceed in a “visibly fair” manner, he added. The NNSC is an impartial entity observing the implementation of the armistice.


“They have been tasked to observe us and ensure that everything we’re doing is defensive, and is there to apply deterrence rather than anything offensive,” he said. “That should give anyone, who has concerns from anywhere about the exercise, confidence that this isn’t simply something that is happening unilaterally. It’s got very tight oversight.”


He noted that “every defense force in the world” trains in some way to make sure that it stands ready in case “the worst happens.”


“It doesn’t breach any international rules, any international law, any U.N. Security Council resolutions,” he emphasized. “I think this is what militaries do to retain peace and security.”


Harrison highlighted the importance of dialogue in order to promote regional stability.


“I think communication gives opportunity into the future. If one can’t communicate, then you can’t solve problems,” he said. “I’m proud that the UNC is currently doing that and has consistently done that.”


Earlier this year, the UNC got into the spotlight as it launched a special investigation into the North’s Dec. 26 drone infiltrations and the South’s subsequent step to send its own drones into the North in a “corresponding” step.


The UNC concluded both sides violated the armistice although the South Korean government maintains that its “counteraction” was a legitimate exercise of its “right to self-defense not restrained by the armistice.”


“If we’re mandated to enforce the armistice, and the armistice is breached or broken, then of course, it’s a concern to me and to the commander,” he said. “The commander will say we play the ball as we see it … There is no bias.”


Emphasizing that he does not want to be “drawn into any opinion on any government,” Harrison said, “I hope we don’t need to have any more armistice violations that lead to reports.”


Meanwhile, Yonhap was given rare media access to the “Armistice Room” at the UNC headquarters, where one of the three tables used for the signing of the armistice is on display, along with books containing lists of Korean War deaths.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the signing of the armistice in July. It was signed by the representatives of the U.S.-led UNC, North Korea and China.


“That peace was bought by the blood of our servicemen and women who are memorialized in this room,” the general said. “We must never forget that if we ever breached that peace again, we risk more names, more families being represented in this room, and none of us want that.”


Describing the armistice as the “longest standing” one in the history of the world, Harrison underscored the role of the armistice to keep at least “relative levels of peace” despite persistent cross-border tensions.


“We must do all we can to retain the armistice and the peace that these young men and women fought and died for,” he said. “Historically, tensions have gone up and down, but it’s never fallen apart.”


Touching on the ongoing efforts by the South Korean government and the UNC to update the command, Harrison said any organization that “stands still” will decline in authority and responsibilities.


“We have to be dynamic to match the situation of the day,” he said without elaborating on details of the updating process. “We will do the task more efficiently and hopefully with fewer resources if we reflect the changes that are going on in the broader environment.”


Harrison assumed duty as the UNC deputy commander in late 2021, having participated in challenging peace operations in conflict zones, including in Iraq, Afghanistan and Sierra Leone.


Source: Yonhap News Agency

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