Armistice is Dangerous

The North Koreans have recently taken two steps that garnered media attention: the first, their nuclear test, received a Chicken Little response; the second, abrogating the 1953 armistice, elicited little more than yawns. The media missed the real danger. America is now faced with the potential recurrence of the inactive Korean War while involved in two active wars.

We mark the end of World War I on Veterans Day, formerly Armistice Day, commemorating the military agreement to end combat. But the war didn't end until the Paris Peace Conference adjourned, in January 1920. Ending combat does not end the state of war. By that principle, the United States is currently in a state of war with nine countries: Afghanistan, China, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, and Russia; seven of these conflicts are inactive.

America's lack of concern over these latent threats is typical. An informal society, we pay little attention to legal niceties. We prefer handshake agreements, signing papers without ever reading the fine print because that is a part of the ritual of the deal. International negotiations strike us as ineffective posturing.  Regardless of legal approaches to international conflict, and criminalization of reprehensible activity in war, there is little threat of prosecution for the resumption of hostilities in the absence of a formal treaty that would allocate penalties. These seven quiescent wars, however moot to us, present a danger that has not been discussed.

These conflicts remain open mainly because of Cold War concerns about the use of nuclear weapons. Cessation of lesser hostilities without formal resolution kept things quiet. The Cold War is over; the concerns are not. While the U.S.-Soviet conflict may have been "Cold" in the media, it was "Hot" in fact with shoot-downs of reconnaissance aircraft on the Soviet periphery and over Russia where Gary Power's U-2 was shot down. In October 1963, Soviet air defense brought down a U.S. Air Force U-2 over Cuba.

American and North Korean generals signed an Armistice Agreement on July 27, 1953 ending the hostilities begun by the North Korean invasion of South Korea on June 25, 1950. Fifty-four years later, President Bush stated his hope that a peace conference could finally be convened. The 1953 agreement recommended that a "political conference at a higher level ... for the peaceful settlement of the Korean question, ..." begin within three months of the agreement's signing. That conference was never held and we are at war with North Korea today due to that failure.

The Iran-U.S. conflict began on November 4, 1979 with the seizure of the American embassy and 52 hostages in Tehran. America invaded Iran with a hostage-rescue team that failed. A non-treaty agreement, the Algiers Accords, on January 19, 1981 settled commercial differences between the countries. Iran released the hostages the next day. During the Iran-Iraq war an American guided missile destroyer, on patrol to deter Iranian attacks on neutral shipping, shot down an Iranian commercial jumbo jet. America treated the attack as an accident, and compensated the Iranians in 1996. Iran continues as a belligerent with America, still holding our embassy.

Our peculiar war with Libya 1973 began when Qaddafi declared the "Line of Death" in the Mediterranean, defining the Gulf of Sidra as Libyan internal waters. The United States and its Navy recognizes sovereignty only to 12 miles from shore by international convention. Combat occurred in 1981 and 1986. On April 5, 1989 a bomb killed two U.S. servicemen and wounded 60 Americans at a Berlin nightclub.  The Americans linked this attack and the Libyan embassy in East Germany, and responded swiftly; some 100 US aircraft attacked four bases and a port in Libya. While Libyan relations with the United States have eased, the issues that led to the combat have not been laid to rest.

Clint Eastwood highlighted Grenada with his movie "Heartbreak Ridge." Whatever the facts on the ground as of the American invasion on October 25, 1983, American and Cuban troops fought each other. Combat operations officially ended in December. The Americans and Cubans left.

Beginning January 16, 1991, an American-led coalition expelled Iraqi forces from Kuwait, which Iraq invaded on August 2, 1990. Thus began the state of war punctuated by the second longest armistice American forces have negotiated. A formal ceasefire began on February 22, 1991. The flawed agreement allowed the Iraqis to use combat helicopters to put down internal uprisings, which led to U.S. and British air patrols in defined areas (No-Fly Zones) that the Iraqis continually challenged. After years of exasperation with Saddam Hussein's antics, America resumed combat on March 20, 2003. While the American and Iraqi governments are negotiating agreements, there has been no public talk of a peace treaty.

The book and the movie, "Black Hawk Down" identifies Somalia to most Americans. Somalia began a decline into a failed state in January 1991, when a coalition of tribes overthrew the Somali president, then splintered into warring factions, destroying local agriculture and seizing international relief food to sustain factional power. The United Nations began to oversee food distribution in July 1992. The United States provided air transport for the relief, adding ground forces that December. General Aidid abrogated a United Nations sponsored agreement resulting in fighting between Aidid's forces and the U.N. troops in Mogadishu on June 5, 1993, leading to the death of 24 Pakistani soldiers. The U.N. Security Council issued an arrest order the next day. On 3 October, an American operation to capture two of Aidid's senior aides began. Two helicopters were shot down, ruining the original plan. After a night of intensive combat, a U.N. force assisted the U.S. Army in extracting its troops, of whom 18 died and 73 were wounded. Somali casualties were estimated at about 500 dead and over 1000 wounded, in an unknowable mix of militia and civilians. American forces withdrew by March 1995.

Our war in Afghanistan began with the Soviet invasion in 1979. In a Cold War move, we opposed that invasion through proxies with Saudi Arabian and Pakistani support. The Soviets lost and retired in 1989, allowing tribal forces to defeat the Afghan Communist Party. Afghan ethnic conflict replaced the Cold War maneuvering. We supported an alliance of minority tribes against the largely Pashtun Taliban. The Taliban gave asylum to a residue of the war against the Soviets, Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda turned on their former supporters, declared war on us and attacked the United States on September 11, 2001. On October 7, 2001 American air forces began supporting the local effort to defeat the Taliban. American ground forces joined the fight in 2002. A free Afghan government was elected in 2004 and NATO forces are providing security assistance to the Afghans. U.S. combat operations continue against Taliban opposition.

By contrast, American involvement in Vietnam began with military assistance to the French in September 1950, and was escalated and switched to the South Vietnamese government after the defeat of the French in 1954. The South could never gain control or defeat the communist North in spite of massive U.S. involvement after 1964. Both Vietnamese sides and the United States concluded a peace treaty in Geneva on January 27, 1973; the United States withdrew. The North resumed fighting and conquered the South on April 30, 1975. As intense an American political issue as the Vietnam War was, the formal ending of it allowed peace to work. Diplomatic relations between the United States and Vietnam resumed on August 6, 1995. Today, the united state of Vietnam is an integral part of the world economy.

This short history of our unresolved wars, when contrasted with the Vietnam War, reveals that the diplomatic formalism of peace treaties between states, as distasteful as it might be to some politicians, can be more effective than reliance on the United Nations or the forbearance of other parties to a conflict. With a U.S. military strained by current operations, we should apply to ourselves as much pressure for peace treaties with these belligerents as we are putting on Israel to end its states of war with many of its neighbors.
The North Koreans have recently taken two steps that garnered media attention: the first, their nuclear test, received a Chicken Little response; the second, abrogating the 1953 armistice, elicited little more than yawns. The media missed the real danger. America is now faced with the potential recurrence of the inactive Korean War while involved in two active wars.

We mark the end of World War I on Veterans Day, formerly Armistice Day, commemorating the military agreement to end combat. But the war didn't end until the Paris Peace Conference adjourned, in January 1920. Ending combat does not end the state of war. By that principle, the United States is currently in a state of war with nine countries: Afghanistan, China, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, and Russia; seven of these conflicts are inactive.

America's lack of concern over these latent threats is typical. An informal society, we pay little attention to legal niceties. We prefer handshake agreements, signing papers without ever reading the fine print because that is a part of the ritual of the deal. International negotiations strike us as ineffective posturing.  Regardless of legal approaches to international conflict, and criminalization of reprehensible activity in war, there is little threat of prosecution for the resumption of hostilities in the absence of a formal treaty that would allocate penalties. These seven quiescent wars, however moot to us, present a danger that has not been discussed.

These conflicts remain open mainly because of Cold War concerns about the use of nuclear weapons. Cessation of lesser hostilities without formal resolution kept things quiet. The Cold War is over; the concerns are not. While the U.S.-Soviet conflict may have been "Cold" in the media, it was "Hot" in fact with shoot-downs of reconnaissance aircraft on the Soviet periphery and over Russia where Gary Power's U-2 was shot down. In October 1963, Soviet air defense brought down a U.S. Air Force U-2 over Cuba.

American and North Korean generals signed an Armistice Agreement on July 27, 1953 ending the hostilities begun by the North Korean invasion of South Korea on June 25, 1950. Fifty-four years later, President Bush stated his hope that a peace conference could finally be convened. The 1953 agreement recommended that a "political conference at a higher level ... for the peaceful settlement of the Korean question, ..." begin within three months of the agreement's signing. That conference was never held and we are at war with North Korea today due to that failure.

The Iran-U.S. conflict began on November 4, 1979 with the seizure of the American embassy and 52 hostages in Tehran. America invaded Iran with a hostage-rescue team that failed. A non-treaty agreement, the Algiers Accords, on January 19, 1981 settled commercial differences between the countries. Iran released the hostages the next day. During the Iran-Iraq war an American guided missile destroyer, on patrol to deter Iranian attacks on neutral shipping, shot down an Iranian commercial jumbo jet. America treated the attack as an accident, and compensated the Iranians in 1996. Iran continues as a belligerent with America, still holding our embassy.

Our peculiar war with Libya 1973 began when Qaddafi declared the "Line of Death" in the Mediterranean, defining the Gulf of Sidra as Libyan internal waters. The United States and its Navy recognizes sovereignty only to 12 miles from shore by international convention. Combat occurred in 1981 and 1986. On April 5, 1989 a bomb killed two U.S. servicemen and wounded 60 Americans at a Berlin nightclub.  The Americans linked this attack and the Libyan embassy in East Germany, and responded swiftly; some 100 US aircraft attacked four bases and a port in Libya. While Libyan relations with the United States have eased, the issues that led to the combat have not been laid to rest.

Clint Eastwood highlighted Grenada with his movie "Heartbreak Ridge." Whatever the facts on the ground as of the American invasion on October 25, 1983, American and Cuban troops fought each other. Combat operations officially ended in December. The Americans and Cubans left.

Beginning January 16, 1991, an American-led coalition expelled Iraqi forces from Kuwait, which Iraq invaded on August 2, 1990. Thus began the state of war punctuated by the second longest armistice American forces have negotiated. A formal ceasefire began on February 22, 1991. The flawed agreement allowed the Iraqis to use combat helicopters to put down internal uprisings, which led to U.S. and British air patrols in defined areas (No-Fly Zones) that the Iraqis continually challenged. After years of exasperation with Saddam Hussein's antics, America resumed combat on March 20, 2003. While the American and Iraqi governments are negotiating agreements, there has been no public talk of a peace treaty.

The book and the movie, "Black Hawk Down" identifies Somalia to most Americans. Somalia began a decline into a failed state in January 1991, when a coalition of tribes overthrew the Somali president, then splintered into warring factions, destroying local agriculture and seizing international relief food to sustain factional power. The United Nations began to oversee food distribution in July 1992. The United States provided air transport for the relief, adding ground forces that December. General Aidid abrogated a United Nations sponsored agreement resulting in fighting between Aidid's forces and the U.N. troops in Mogadishu on June 5, 1993, leading to the death of 24 Pakistani soldiers. The U.N. Security Council issued an arrest order the next day. On 3 October, an American operation to capture two of Aidid's senior aides began. Two helicopters were shot down, ruining the original plan. After a night of intensive combat, a U.N. force assisted the U.S. Army in extracting its troops, of whom 18 died and 73 were wounded. Somali casualties were estimated at about 500 dead and over 1000 wounded, in an unknowable mix of militia and civilians. American forces withdrew by March 1995.

Our war in Afghanistan began with the Soviet invasion in 1979. In a Cold War move, we opposed that invasion through proxies with Saudi Arabian and Pakistani support. The Soviets lost and retired in 1989, allowing tribal forces to defeat the Afghan Communist Party. Afghan ethnic conflict replaced the Cold War maneuvering. We supported an alliance of minority tribes against the largely Pashtun Taliban. The Taliban gave asylum to a residue of the war against the Soviets, Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda turned on their former supporters, declared war on us and attacked the United States on September 11, 2001. On October 7, 2001 American air forces began supporting the local effort to defeat the Taliban. American ground forces joined the fight in 2002. A free Afghan government was elected in 2004 and NATO forces are providing security assistance to the Afghans. U.S. combat operations continue against Taliban opposition.

By contrast, American involvement in Vietnam began with military assistance to the French in September 1950, and was escalated and switched to the South Vietnamese government after the defeat of the French in 1954. The South could never gain control or defeat the communist North in spite of massive U.S. involvement after 1964. Both Vietnamese sides and the United States concluded a peace treaty in Geneva on January 27, 1973; the United States withdrew. The North resumed fighting and conquered the South on April 30, 1975. As intense an American political issue as the Vietnam War was, the formal ending of it allowed peace to work. Diplomatic relations between the United States and Vietnam resumed on August 6, 1995. Today, the united state of Vietnam is an integral part of the world economy.

This short history of our unresolved wars, when contrasted with the Vietnam War, reveals that the diplomatic formalism of peace treaties between states, as distasteful as it might be to some politicians, can be more effective than reliance on the United Nations or the forbearance of other parties to a conflict. With a U.S. military strained by current operations, we should apply to ourselves as much pressure for peace treaties with these belligerents as we are putting on Israel to end its states of war with many of its neighbors.