Seoul totally suspends buffer-creating military pact with Pyongyang, sending tensions into overdrive

Posted on : 2024-06-04 17:15 KST Modified on : 2024-06-04 17:23 KST
Without the buffers put in place by the 2018-era inter-Korean military agreement, there’s a greater risk of clashes escalating into war
The flags of North and South Korea fly along the respective sides of the border on June 2, 2024. (Kim Hye-yun/The Hankyoreh)
The flags of North and South Korea fly along the respective sides of the border on June 2, 2024. (Kim Hye-yun/The Hankyoreh)

South Korea suspended a buffer-creating military agreement with North Korea dating back to 2018 on Tuesday, a hawkish move that some observers say will only further inflame military tensions in response to North Korea’s launches of waste-filled balloons across the border.

The presidential office held a National Security Council meeting on Monday presided over by national security adviser Kim Tae-hyo. 

“North Korea’s recent provocations present a direct threat to the Korean people while causing actual damage. Regarding these circumstances, we have deemed the Sept. 19 military agreement to be detrimental to our military’s readiness,” the National Security Office announced after the meeting, while announcing that a motion to suspend the agreement “until mutual trust is restored” between the North and South would be discussed at Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting. 

“This would allow our military to presume exercises near the Military Demarcation Line, so they can be prepared to respond immediately to any further threats,” the office continued. 

“If North Korea continues to provoke us, we will respond accordingly with additional measures.” 

In attendance at Monday’s meeting were Kim Tae-hyo; First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Hong-kyun, Vice Defense Minister Kim Seon-ho; Hwang Won-jin, second deputy director of the National Intelligence Service; Kim Byung-dae, policy director of the Ministry of Unification; Yin Sung-hwan, second deputy director of the National Security Office. 

The 2018 agreement can be suspended without National Assembly ratification if both the president and his Cabinet move to suspend it. 

Formally known as the “Agreement on the Implementation of the Historic Panmunjom Declaration in the Military Domain,” the comprehensive military agreement was signed on Sept. 19, 2018, by then-President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un during an inter-Korean summit. 

The agreement contains promises to cease all hostile activity near the Military Demarcation Line. North Korea’s launch of a military reconnaissance satellite in November of last year, however, provoked Seoul to suspend portions of the agreement that stipulated a no-fly zone near the border. In response, North Korea declared the entire pact invalid. South Korea announced in January of this year that it will no longer maintain military buffer zones near the border, whether it’s on land or in the sea. 

The Yoon administration in Seoul, which has slowly but steadily been chipping away at the agreement, has now decided to fully suspend the deal in response to North Korea’s trash-filled balloons and GPS jamming attacks. The decision comes after the government warned of measures “difficult for North Korea to handle” on Friday.
Despite North Korea’s claim on Sunday that it would stop floating trash-filled balloons over the border for the time being, the administration has decided to take a hard line and send a clear warning to North Korea that the South is ready to take immediate action, including by returning propaganda loudspeakers to the border — a sore spot for the North. 

By Jang Na-rye, staff reporter

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