In India’s G20 presidency year, recalling its diplomatic role in the Korean War seven decades ago

Source: The post is based on the article “In India’s G20 presidency year, recalling its diplomatic role in the Korean War seven decades ago” published in Indian Express on 31st March 2023

What is the News?

In its G20 year, India has shown renewed interest in the only other diplomatic intervention by India in a distant war (apart from the recent Russian-Ukraine) seven decades ago – The Korean War.

What is the Korean War?

The Korean War was fought between North Korea and South Korea from 1950 to 1953. The war began on 25 June 1950 when North Korea invaded South Korea following clashes along the border and rebellions in South Korea.

North Korea was supported by China and the Soviet Union while South Korea was supported by the United States and allied countries. The fighting ended with an armistice on 27 July 1953.

What is the role of India in the Korean War?

Diplomacy: In late 1952, the Indian resolution on Korea was adopted at the UN with unanimous non-Soviet support.

But India recognized any deal without the Soviets will fail and immediately flung into action to get them on board, which happened in 1953.

Ultimately, despite the rough international political climate, India succeeded in building consensus – which precipitated the “Armistice Agreement”.

Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission(NNRC): One of the follow-up actions to the Armistice Agreement was the establishment of a Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission (NNRC).

NNRC was to decide on the fate of over 20,000 prisoners of war from both sides and India was chosen as the Chair of the NNRC.

A UN Command led by an Englishman and a Custodian Force from India (headed by Lt.Gen Thimayya) was also deployed on the inter-Korean border.

NNRC’s tenure ended in early 1954, and the Indian forces were praised internationally for executing the tough stabilizing operations successfully.

Asylum to prisoners of war: At the end of its work, the NNRC was left with over 80 prisoners of war who didn’t want to go to either of the Koreas.

As an interim arrangement, Nehru decided to grant them abode in India until the UN directive on their request is pronounced. 

Although most settled in foreign destinations like Latin America, some did stay back in India and lived their entire lives here.

What is the significance of India’s role in the Korean war?

In an essay, ‘Between the Blocs: India, the UN, and Ending the Korean War’, British historian Robert Barnes recognised the key role played by India:

– To bring the Korean war to a swift conclusion by reconciling the divergent positions of the two superpower blocs, and

– Prevent the UN from adopting a policy that might lead to its escalation.

Hence, as the world grapples to find an end to the war in Ukraine, India’s role and its experience (in ending the Korean war,70 years ago) can’t be neglected.

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