Seoul’s defense minister slams Pyongyang’s “overt violations” of inter-Korean military agreement

Posted on : 2022-10-17 16:28 KST Modified on : 2022-10-17 16:30 KST
American experts commented that it may be in South Korea’s interest to keep to the terms of the Comprehensive Military Agreement signed in September 2018
President Yoon Suk-yeol speaks to reporters as he enters the presidential office on Oct. 14, when he called recent artillery fire by North Korea a “violation” of the Sept. 19 inter-Korean military agreement. (presidential office pool photo)
President Yoon Suk-yeol speaks to reporters as he enters the presidential office on Oct. 14, when he called recent artillery fire by North Korea a “violation” of the Sept. 19 inter-Korean military agreement. (presidential office pool photo)

South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup said Sunday that North Korea’s “overt violations” of the 2018 Comprehensive Military Agreement (CMA) amount to a “meticulously prepared provocation and might be the beginning of a series of deliberate provocations” while calling for a “stern initial response.” Tensions are rising on the Korean Peninsula amid expectations that North Korea is on the verge of carrying out a seventh nuclear test.

Lee made these remarks while stressing the “gravity of the present situation,” according to the Ministry of National Defense, after assessing readiness to respond to North Korea’s repeated military actions during a visit to the combat control room at the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Sunday.

“North Korea has recently continued to launch ballistic missiles despite strong objections by the international community and to make the absurd claim that our legitimate gunnery exercises are a ‘deliberate act of provocation,’” Lee said.

Lee asked commanders and soldiers in the field to stand in readiness to carry out a “stern initial response in self-defense without hesitation in the event of a direct provocation from North Korea.”

Lee’s remarks also serve as a retort against North Korea’s attempt to blame South Korea for its own artillery gunnery exercises on the front lines on the west and east coasts on Oct. 13-14 that amounted to a violation of the inter-Korean military agreement of 2018. Pyongyang called on the South Korean military to “immediately halt its rash provocative actions.”

The General Staff Department of the North Korean People's Army said that gunnery exercises on the west and east coasts on Friday afternoon were a “response” to gunnery exercises carried out by the South Korean military in Cheorwon County, Gangwon Province, North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency reported on Saturday.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs explained that the gunnery exercises in Cheorwon had been outside of the ground buffer zone (an area 5 kilometers south of the Military Demarcation Line) in which artillery gunnery exercises are prohibited under the CMA and also that the guns themselves had been pointed south. The Joint Chiefs added that the shells fired by North Korean artillery units on the west and east coasts had fallen “within the maritime buffer zone north of the Northern Limit Line,” referring to a boundary line in the Yellow Sea.

The Joint Chiefs said that North Korea was in violation of the CMA.

The Comprehensive Military Agreement is a supplemental agreement to the Pyongyang Joint Declaration that South and North Korea announced on Sept. 19, 2018. Under the pact, the two sides agreed to set up a no-fly zone, areas where artillery gunnery exercises and field mobility exercises are prohibited, and a maritime buffer zone around the Military Demarcation Line, with the goal of preventing accidental military clashes.

“We’re diligently maintaining a stance of readiness and vigilance given North Korea’s increasing provocations. Readiness is being maintained 24 hours a day,” a high-ranking official at South Korea’s presidential office told reporters on Sunday.

South Korea’s National Intelligence Service reported to the National Assembly last month that North Korea might carry out a seventh nuclear test sometime between Oct. 16, when the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party begins, and Nov. 8, when the US holds its midterm elections.

South Korea’s ruling People Power Party (PPP) is taking a harder line. Chung Jin-suk, the PPP’s interim leader, criticized the opposition Democratic Party in a post on Facebook on Sunday.

“The past five years gave Kim Jong-un enough time to make his nuclear warheads smaller and lighter. Cruise missiles carrying those warheads can move in a zigzag pattern, and a seventh nuclear test is imminent. Is that not a crisis for the Republic of Korea? What is the Democratic Party thinking at this moment?” Chung wrote in his post.

“If North Korea carries out a seventh nuclear test, we’ll have to scrap the Comprehensive Military Agreement and declare the 1991 joint statement on denuclearization to be void,” Chung added.

Cho Kyoung-tae and Kim Gi-hyeon, both lawmakers with the PPP, also called for South Korea to develop its own nuclear arsenal.

But US experts on the Korean Peninsula argued that South Korea shouldn’t preemptively scrap the CMA even if it has been contravened by North Korea, Voice of America reported on Sunday.

“It's certainly possible if Kim Jong-un follows his past practice, that after some series of tests, he will agree to accept the offer from President Biden and President Yoon to resume diplomacy,” said Gary Samore, former coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction at the White House.

“Even though it’s not, in fact, being implemented now, I think the agreement has some important provisions,” Samore said, adding that maintaining the CMA might work to South Korea’s advantage down the road.

Ken Gause, director of the International Affairs Group at CNA, said that keeping the Sept. 19 military agreement in place despite North Korean violations would allow South Korea “to have the moral high ground.”

Gause went on: “When North Korea gets out of this phase of brinksmanship, you'll have an agreement in place where they can go back and start adhering to it. I think it helps with security on the peninsula.”

“If South Korea sets it aside, then it would open North Korea to [violating] it in a more egregious fashion,” observed Scott Snyder, senior fellow for Korea studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

By Lee Je-hun, senior staff writer; Jung In-hwan, staff reporter; Sun Dam-eun, staff reporter

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