The Korean conflict has been one of the most protracted in the world, lasting more than 70 years. Despite the heightened tension, there was no channel of communication between the North and the South. It was only on September 22, 1971, that the first hotline between the two Koreas was installed at the Panmunjom—26 years after the telephone line between Seoul and Haeju was cut off by the former Soviet army immediately after liberation on August 26, 1945.
Since 1971, a total of 50 lines were open, including a hotline between leaders of the two Koreas as well as military and intelligence communication lines. But North Korea suddenly cut off all communications with the South with the exception of that between the United Nations Command (UNC) and North Korea military. Nevertheless, they proved to be useful tools for confidence-building measures to improve inter-Korean communication, to facilitate exchanges and cooperation, including inter-Korean official talks, and to assist the promotion of humanitarian aid. More importantly, they have served as an effective mechanism for the prevention of accidental military clashes through a timely exchange of information. This paper presents a brief historical overview of hotlines between the two Koreas, examines their present status, and elucidates limitations and future tasks.
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Moon Chung-in is a distinguished professor emeritus of political science at Yonsei University. He is the Chair of Sejong University and the Vice Chair of the Asia-Pacific Leadership Network.
Boo Seung-Chan is a spokesperson for the ROK Ministry of National Defense. He co-authored this article as a research fellow of the Institute for North Korean Studies, Yonsei University, before he joined the ministry.
The paper was prepared for a Workshop on hotlines held in August of 2020 and convened by the Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainability, the Institute for Security and Technology, and the Stanley Center for Peace and Security. It was published originally on December 17, 2020. The original text in PDF may be downloaded here.
It is published simultaneously by Asia Pacific Leadership Network, Research Center for Abolition of Nuclear Weapons-Nagasaki University, Institute for Security and Technology, and Nautilus Institute and is published under a 4.0 International Creative Commons License the terms of which are found here.
Image: Joyce Lee/APLN, Hippopx.