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.”

The paper can be found here.

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What is the relevance of this article other than keeping someone occupied? Why on earth would UK get involved when regional powers have more than enough hardware in theatre. Do we really think 4 Typhoons will make a difference? Let’s stay focused on our NATO area of ops and do that properly


Exactly and what a waste of money.


Easy to ask what is the relevance when the very device you typed the post on was most likely manufactured by in large in the asian region. When dealing with North Korea, one has to link China and Russia into the decision making. Neither would be enthusiastic about a combined democratic Korea. Obviously these ideological differences will continue to simmer until something(or someone) breaks requiring a lot more than a pitiful number of air assets with limited air-to-ground capability to cope with. The world, indeed the UN has severely missed the beat leaving the Korean war technically unresolved – a… Read more »


Unfortunately the Korean war never officially ended it was just a ceasefire but a lot has happened since the 1950s and its fair to say we are not quite as strong as we use to be. Of course we do have a commitment under the Five Powers Treaty so we do have some genuine ties to support those countries. My personal view is we stay well clear and if the yanks want to pick a fight lets support them by selling them equipment i.e. lease lend. We can then perhaps get involved near the end of war and claim we… Read more »


Spot on.

Daniele Mandelli

No but if the USA asks for assistance we will respond.

We usually do.

If a coalition is formed the UK has the capabilities and professionalism to operate alongside the USA.

The foreign policy in Washington is usually reflected in London.

I support close military and intelligence ties to the US but sometimes we should say no.


I agree and asiapac is well away from our even extended area. it would be ridiculous for us to join in when we hardly ever have a ship east of suez these days – imagine the logistics!!

If our friends Australia came under attack, I would change my mind though


I agree with everything you said but I would add that if the U.K. declined to support the US just once it would give our international standing a real boost. Unfortunately I personally would wish to support South Korea so in my view this would be the wrong issue to show our independence from total compliance with any US request.


The UK has only followed the US into Afghanistan and Iraq. Their have been numerous others occasion where the the UK has either been neutral if not outright in opposition to American foreign policy.
To name a few where the UK has been not been in “total compliance” as you put it. Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Nicaragua ,or of course the ever popular claiming to not wish Israel ill while constantly undermining it and American policy in the region.


Elliot the examples you give are a considerable number of years ago and mostly several decades past when we had leaders who had first hand experience of war. You reinforced the point I was making by referring to the two recent conflicts that have undermined the UKs position in the world, damaged our military and virtually destroyed people’s faith in our Politicians. True friends and allies do disagree and it is healthy to do so and I blame U.K. politicians entirely for this. In being too compliant we have let down ourselves, the USA and others down badly. The yanks… Read more »

David Steeper

So Elliot remind us again when the USA has EVER fought alongside the UK out of friendship ?


Never and nor should any country. War for friendship instead of strategic calculations is idiocy. Wars or military action should only be contemplated when: A. Diplomatic actions resulting in failure. B. When it is strategically necessary. C. Vengeance/Self-Defense.
I was merely noting times the UK has not done what Americans would have wished in my lifetime. However that should not be the UK’s concern, only the voters of the UK should decide on military action. Note however action and inaction are remembered long by those who they affected.


” two permanent staff posts to UNC in South Korea”- I bet that’s got NK quaking in its boots!

If we expect a place on the world stage why are we continually disarming our forces?

Nick Bowman

Frank, you make a great point. All these discussions about the importance of retaining this ship or that ship or a certain number of soldiers tend to obscure the truth of your statement. Our strategic ambitions and our military capabilities ought to reflect each other but they do not. The government must reign in their ambitions or else increase our defence budget to make them feasible. It is not currently possible for us to do more than send a token force to Asia. We need to get comfortable with that reality or else spend the money to beef up our… Read more »


Were the red arrows there as a diversionary tactic whilst the fighters practiiced attacking the North Koreans? Clever, do a few loops and draw a heart in the sky whilst the Typhoons sneak in just above the tree tops.

Simon Lloyd-Williams

South Korea is a democracy last time I looked. That we would not come to the defence of a fellow democracy would be indefensible.