In the first, manoeuvre, phase of the Korean War both sides aspired to total victory to unify the country under either the northern or the southern government...
In December 1950, the United States – by far the most influential United Nations country at war in Korea – abandoned this aim as it saw no prospect of complete victory now that China had intervened in the war. China, the main player in the alliance between North Korea, the Soviet Union and China, took another six months to come to the same conclusion. After the defeat of the communist fifth phase offensive in mid-1950, it too decided the war would only end with a negotiated peace. Negotiations opened at Kaesong on 10 July 1951 and were later moved to Panmunjom.
The issues to be settled were where the ceasefire line – in effect the new border – would be, what would be the long-term arrangements to maintain the ceasefire, the exchange of prisoners of war (including 30 Australians) and arrangements for reaching a more detailed settlement of the conflict.
During the remaining two years of the war there was fighting along the now reasonably static front as both sides wished to influence the negotiations by winning battles. Operation Commando was one of these battles during which 3rd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment took Maryang San losing over 100 casualties. The pattern of negotiating while fighting, together with some periods when negotiations were halted in protest at the actions of the other side, continued to the very end of the war. Australia's last battle, at the Hook, took place in the week leading up to the ceasefire.
By 1953 both China and the United States were keen to find a solution to the impasse. President Dwight Eisenhower stepped up the bombing of North Korea and even considered threatening the use of atomic weapons if China did not agree to peace. However, the obstacle was not China but the Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin, who believed continuing the war was to the advantage of the Soviet Union from a broader Cold War perspective. His death on 5 March 1953 cleared the way for a ceasefire.
A four-kilometre wide demilitarised zone, on the line held on the day the ceasefire came into effect, was agreed to. Prisoners of war were exchanged and further negotiations for a comprehensive peace were planned but did not take place. A meeting between the concerned powers in Geneva in 1954 also failed to reach agreement and all negotiations ceased in 1955. North and South Korea remain technically still at war. A Neutral Nations Supervisory Committee set up in 1953 continues to this day to monitor the ceasefire. Both sides maintain large military forces along the demilitarized zone where more than a thousand people have died in border skirmishes.