North and South Korea exchanging most heated rhetoric yet

Posted on : 2013-03-09 12:34 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
South Korean government responds to peace agreement nullification threat by saying North Korea will “perish from the earth”

By Park Byong-su and Seok Jin-hwan, staff reporters

North Korea responded to UN Security Council sanctions with some of its most aggressive actions and rhetoric yet.

With Pyongyang declaring the inter-Korean nonaggression agreement null and the hotline at Panmunjeom severed on one side, and Seoul vowing a "forceful response to North Korea's provocations" on the other, tensions on the peninsula are rapidly reaching new heights. Now many observers are expressing concern that things could unwittingly escalate into a large-scale military clash.

Following the UNSC's adoption on Mar. 3 of Resolution 2094, which imposes tougher sanctions, the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, North Korea's organization for South Korea issues, issued a statement declaring, "As of March 11, when the military exercises begin their main phase, all nonaggression agreements between North and South will be nullified."

Referring to the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises this month between the US and South Korean militaries, the statement said, "The inter-Korean nonaggression agreements regarding the non-use of military force against the other side, the prevention of unintended military clashes, the peaceful resolution of disputes, and inviolable boundary issues now exist in name only."

The non-aggression agreements in question appear to be the Inter-Korean Basic Agreement of 1992 and an appendix on non-aggression. The committee also said it was immediately severing contact channels at Panmunjom.

North Korea announced in January 2009 that it was planning to "nullify all agreements related to the resolution of political and military antagonisms between North and South" after frictions intensified over the Northern Limit Line in the West (Yellow) Sea. In 2010, it shut down the hotline at Panmunjom just after the so-called "May 24 measures" were enacted by the South Korean government in the wake of the ROKS Cheonan warship sinking. The line was subsequently restored two years and two months later in January 2011.

Analysts said the recent threats coming out of Pyongyang appeared to a strategic gambit aimed at heightening military tensions on the peninsula in order to extract concessions from Seoul and Washington. Since the UNSC adopted Resolution 2087 last month, it has stepped up its threats by backing out of the 1992 Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, nulifying the armistice agreement and warning of second and third retaliatory actions on Mar. 5, and making declarations about its right to a preemptive nuclear strike and the possibility of a "second Korean War" on Mar. 6.

A belligerent mood is also forming inside the country, with several large-scale military and civilian rallies over the past few days. The military reportedly increased its firing exercises with a mock attack on the Seoul area. Meanwhile, leader Kim Jong-un rallied the troops with a visit to front line units on the West Sea coast on Mar. 7, declaring that the "front line units and all the soldiers of our army, navy, air force, anti-air force, and strategic rocket units are prepared in every way to launch our version of total warfare."

The Blue House responded on Mar. 8 with its first foreign policy and national security policy coordination meeting since the Park Geun-hye administration took office. With delays holding up the appointment of the relevant Cabinet ministers, vice ministers were present from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Unification, and National Defense, as well as deputy heads from the National Intelligence Service and the Office of the Prime Minister.

The administration also released a statement through Ministry of Unification spokesman Kim Hyung-suk expressing its dismay at the "heightening of tensions on the Korean Peninsula" from North Korea backing out of the non-aggression agreements.

"North Korea's authorities bear all responsibility for anything that occurs from not abiding by the inter-Korean agreements," Kim said.

The Ministry of National Defense fired back with even more aggressive rhetoric. Speaking at a briefing, spokesman Kim Min-seok said, "We will respond forcefully if North Korea provokes us. If North Korea attacks South Korea with a nuclear weapon, then by the will of the Republic of Korea and humanity, the Kim Jong-un regime will perish from the Earth."

The rising tensions are also fanning concerns about a miitary clash breaking out. Many are pointing to the Northern Limit Line area in the West Sea, where armed clashes have occurred in the past, as a particularly tense area.

"If military tensions rise, there's a strong possibility that even a small, accidental clash will get out of control and spiral into a large-scale military conflict," said Kim Yeon-chul, a professor at Inje University. "Managing any unintended clashes is of paramount importance."

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