Yoon threatens to suspend inter-Korean agreement aimed at de-escalation

Posted on : 2023-01-05 17:37 KST Modified on : 2023-01-05 17:44 KST
Known by many names, the agreement signed in Panmunjom on Sept. 19 effectively acts as a safeguard against armed clashes between the two Koreas
President Yoon Suk-yeol of South Korea speaks at a meeting with the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs held at the Blue House guesthouse on Jan. 4. (presidential pool photo)
President Yoon Suk-yeol of South Korea speaks at a meeting with the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs held at the Blue House guesthouse on Jan. 4. (presidential pool photo)

On Wednesday, President Yoon Suk-yeol of South Korea ordered the Office of National Security to consider suspending the inter-Korean Comprehensive Military Agreement if the North conducts another provocation that breaches South Korean territory. The president’s latest move comes after North Korean drones infiltrated South Korean airspace above Seoul late last year.

This marks the first time the president has directly mentioned suspending the validity of the Sept. 19 agreement.

The military agreement, which has served as a minimum buffer to prevent accidental military clashes between the two Koreas, is at a crossroads after four years and three months of its signing in 2018.

Overall, a growing sense of crisis has enveloped the Korean Peninsula.

According to Kim Eun-hye, Yoon’s senior secretary for press affairs, the president gave the order after receiving confidential reports about response measures to deal with North Korean drones from the Office of National Security, the Ministry of National Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Agency for Defense Development at the presidential office on Wednesday morning.

“[President Yoon] ordered the South Korean military to respond beyond a proportional level with overwhelming capability to North Korean provocations,” Kim said.

“This emphasizes a firm security readiness posture, and, above all, it is [for the president] to fulfill his role and responsibility as the commander-in-chief of the South Korean military, which is supposed to protect the lives and safety of the people,” Kim explained.

Yoon’s direct call to consider suspending the Sept. 19 military agreement seems related to the belief that the agreement has already been practically nullified by North Korea’s series of armed provocations in recent months.

In reality, North Korea violated the agreement 15 times since October of 2022 by, among others, flying five small drones south of the Military Demarcation Line on Dec. 26 and firing artillery into eastern and western buffer zones north of the Northern Limit Line in October and December.

According to the presidential office, an overwhelming response is the only way to discourage North Korean provocations in the current situation.

“There have been continuous abnormal days when North Korea's violation of the agreement has become routine, not only flying drones [infiltrating our airspace] but also with missile provocations,” a high-level official at the presidential office said.

“It is our hope that there will be no further North Korean provocations moving forward,” the official added.

However, the Democratic Party disagrees with the president’s recent order, arguing that on the contrary, this will only give North Korea space to go beyond the Sept. 19 agreement to conduct more hostile actions against South Korea.”

On a similar note, the main opposition party’s spokesperson An Ho-young criticized the move as “a strategic mistake.”

Meanwhile, after receiving reports on a response strategy for North Korean drones, Yoon instructed Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup to establish a joint drone unit tasked with carrying out multiple missions including surveillance and reconnaissance operations; establish a system enabling the mass production of small, hard-to-detect drones within this year; develop stealth drones before the end of the year; and quickly develop a drone-killer system to catch enemy drones.

In accordance with these orders, military authorities announced that they would soon establish a “joint drone command” while also producing stealth and small drones within the year by using technology already possessed by the Agency for Defense Development.

By Kim Mi-na, staff reporter; Bae Ji-hyun, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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