pacific forum History of Pacific Forum

Issues & Insights Vol. 12 – No. 13 – War and Peace in the East Sea: Reducing Tension Along the Northern Limit Line

The Northern Limit Line (NLL), though only one of many problems on the Korean Peninsula, is the cause of nearly all of the bloodshed in the past decade between the two sides. This intangible boundary was originally established by the UN Command to prevent South Korean forces from reigniting the conflict after the end of hostilities during the Korean War. After years of silence, the first instance of on-the-record dispute of the line by the North was not until 1973. Although both Koreas are signatories to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the North has not ratified, and essentially every line they have established as a maritime border, or insisted is correct, is subject to dispute under international law. Dispute over the NLL is not just related to security – powerful economic factors riding the line include valuable blue crab found in the vicinity and a shortened travel route for North Korean commercial ships.