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.


  1. I would hope in the event of hostilities we wouldn’t take a leading role in the conflict but would provide assistance and defensive support to S. Korea and Japan only.

    Though maybe the only way to overcome N. Korea would be by a massive, coordinated, conventional first strike by a coalition of parties, including China and Russia.

    • I’m fairly certain we could field 36 Eurofighters that could add massively to the defence of South Korea. Add to that quite a few drones we could send and we could help a fair bit I always find this pessimism about our armed forces rather odd.

      • 36 Eurofighters don’t add “massively” to the defense of South Korea.
        South Korea has 61 F-15ks, 169 F-16s, 158 F-5s, and 71 F-4s. The USAF has two F-16 fighter wings permanently stationed in South Korea, and the Fifth Air Force which includes the 18th Wing, the largest combat unit of the USAF in Japan. Throw in the Nimitz aircraft carrier permanently stationed in Japan as well as US units on Guam and Okinawa, and there is no rational basis for that statement. Not to mention the US’s Seventh Fleet
        The plain and simple fact is that the UK still thinks of itself as a major military power. It isn’t. Deal with it.

        • It is a major military power when compared to other nations who are not USA China Russia India.
          How do you define “major military power”?
          Would you include being in a hypothetical list of the top ten nations say as a “major military power”?
          Which European nations excluding Germany France do you rate as superior? Name them please.
          Which in South America? Name them please.
          Which is Africa? Name them please.
          Which in Asia apart from those mentioned and added to Japan South Korea?
          A “major military power” includes a lot more than how many of this and how many of that.
          If you like I will start naming various capabilities, and high tech infrastructure in the UK, then you can show me the equivalent, that’d be fun.

      • Agree. It’s all PC in schools you know….talking down your own country at every opportunity. Just look at the BBC…

  2. Well, this site told us that Britain is the 2nd most powerful country in the world….. so Blighty could topple the Norks with ease!

  3. No. The UK is in decline and is financially bankrupted. Best keep noses out of other peoples’ business and face financial reality.

    • Oh well in that case lets just scrap the entire armed forces and just hope like hell nobody invades but then again why would they as we’re so obviously doomed and cursed so it would be just be soul crushingly depressing to occupy the UK.

      Imagine being told you had to fly in and help hold Hull or Brentford, that’s pretty much a cause for a mass mutiny right away.

  4. I’m not being facetious or awkward but if Russia attacked the Baltics or Spain attacked Gibraltar or Argentina attacked the Falklands (unlikely I know) would S.Korea send forces to assist us ? In the event of war on the Korean peninsula I would hope with all my heart for a S.Korean victory but we have enough on our plate. Their seem to be people in the MOD who haven’t seen a war they didn’t want to be involved in. It’s the job of the rest of us to say no.

  5. I don’t often allow myselg to be lured by tabloid or even broadsheet click-bait, but I just couldn’t help myself when I just saw an on-line headline on the Daily Express website: ‘Has US Military Helicopter Been Shot Down? Aircraft Crashes In Japan Near North Korea’ Apparently a CH-53 crashed on Okinawa and burst into flames. The distance between NK and Okinawa is roughly 900 miles. Not sure if the headline was implying a SAM brought down the CH-53 or a NK aircraft or what, but talk about hysterical and sensationalist click-bait. On the question of obligation, no, we are not obligated to defend SK, but that does not mean that we would not become involved. However, I am still of the opinion that war is unlikely. Kim appears secure as leader and what Kim cares about is Kim, and I doubt if he is deluded enough to really want to start a war believing he can do anything but lose extremely badly, which would result in at least the end of his rule and comfortable life, and probably his life as well. But he is now tweaking Trump’s nose rather than Obama’s, and Trump can be very unpredictable.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here