The UK has made a strong – but not automatic – commitment to take part in ‘resisting renewed aggression’ in defence of South Korea.
A Commons Library briefing paper has been released which delves into this often asked question.
“The UK has no treaty obligations to come to the defence of South Korea if it is attacked.”
Recently, North Korea demanded that the United Kingdom pull out of a military exercise in South Korea, describing the exercise as a “hostile act”.
South Korea, the United States and Britain however completed their first joint military exercise aimed at countering North Korea in November.
North Korean Foreign Ministry official Pak Yun Sik said:
“This is a hostile act, openly joining the US and South Korean forces in moves for a new war against us.
Britain claims that this military exercise is not targeting us, but the US and South Korea openly say that these military exercises are aimed at launching a strike against our military facilities and our command structure.”
The South Korean exercise was designed to counter the rising threats from North Korea’s intensified nuclear and missile tests, according to local media.
Britain sent four Typhoon jets, a Voyager tanker aircraft and C-17, C-130 transport aircraft to take part in the exercise. South Korea deployed F-15K and KF-16 fighters and the US sent F-16 fighters, the statement added. These aircraft are pictured above.
Chief of the Air Staff Sir Stephen Hillier said of the exercise in South Korea:
“This exercise is tremendously important and it demonstrates that even though the Royal Air Force is committed to operations in the Middle East and elsewhere.
We still have the capability to deploy effectively to the other side of the world, with both Typhoons, supporting Voyagers and air transport, and the Red Arrows as well. This reinforces the message that the UK is a globally-engaged player with global power, reinforcing our relationship with allies, and also promoting UK prosperity.”
The paper expands upon the history of British involvement in the region, citing UK involvement in the 1950-53 war as part of the 16-nation strong US-led United Nations Command force. The 16 nations signed a Joint Declaration Concerning the Korean Armistice in 1953 on the same day as the Armistice Agreement. The Declaration says: “if there is a renewal of the armed attack, we should again be united and prompted to resist.”
The Government at the time made it clear this is not an automatic commitment to get involved in any renewal of hostilities, a view reaffirmed by the Government in 2006.
The paper also suggests that because the UK remains a member of United Nations Command, which oversees the armistice, has two permanent staff posts to UNC in South Korea and participates in annual exercises that it may be obligated to help, one some level.
The briefing paper concludes:
“Although the UK does not have any binding bilateral agreements on defence and security matters with South Korea, the UK frequently demonstrates its support for South Korea in the face of North Korean provocations.
Successive governments have made clear the Declaration does not commit the UK to military action. However as a signatory to the Declaration, and an ongoing Sending State to United Nations Command, it seems likely that the UK would be involved in the response to a renewed outbreak of hostilities on the peninsula. What form that response would take would be up to the Government.”