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Confidence-Building Through Mine Action on the Korean Peninsula

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The Korean Peninsula is divided by a strip of land, the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), which represents the de facto border between North Korea, and South Korea. Contrary to its name, the DMZ is the most militarized zone on earth, and it delineates a stand-off between militaries composed of several million professional and reservist soldiers on both sides. It is the “Cold War’s last divide and one of the most symbolic barriers between two nations. It is also heavily mined with both anti-personnel and anti-vehicle landmines, and contaminated with unexploded ordnance (UXO) from extensive ground battles and heavy aerial bombardment.

This article explores the nature and extent of explosive ordnance contamination and the physical environment within the DMZ. It describes coordinated demining operations that have taken place between military forces of North and South Korea and the beginning of a human remains recovery program that has seen the repatriation of several hundred sets of remains almost 70 years since the end of the Korean War. Joint demining operations are currently suspended and the political situation remains complex, but mines do not go away. The opportunity that mine action offers to contribute to confidence building on the Korean Peninsula is without parallel; such potential is explored here. In this context a vision for the architecture of mine action on the peninsula is suggested. This includes thoughts on further developing the legal and institutional frameworks for the sector and the potential role that the international community may offer in contributing to peace dividends, both by its presence, and its experience gained elsewhere in the world that may have application in Korea.

This article was first published here.