N. Korea’s continued barrages put Sept. 19 inter-Korean military agreement at crossroads

Posted on : 2022-10-22 10:22 KST Modified on : 2022-10-22 10:22 KST
South Korea’s president and Joint Chiefs of Staff have characterized recent actions by the North as violations of the 2018 agreement
This photo, released by North Korean state media on Oct. 10, shows exercises carried out by the North’s military for which leader Kim Jong-un gave on-site guidance. (KCNA/Yonhap)
This photo, released by North Korean state media on Oct. 10, shows exercises carried out by the North’s military for which leader Kim Jong-un gave on-site guidance. (KCNA/Yonhap)

The Sept. 19 inter-Korean military agreement is at a crossroads after, on Oct. 14, North Korea fired artillery shots into maritime buffer zones off eastern and western coasts, where live firing and other military maneuvers are prohibited under the agreement.

“It is true that they’re a violation” of the military agreement, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol said of the North’s recent actions. “We are reviewing [the developments] one by one.”

North Korea carried out a series of shows of force over a period of 4 hours and 37 minutes starting the night of Oct. 13 and spilling over into the early morning hours the following day.

First, North Korea flew military aircraft close to the border with the South, after which they conducted artillery firings into the West (Yellow) Sea, followed by the launch of a short-range missile into the East Sea, and finally yet another round of artillery firings, this time into the East Sea.

About North Korea flew around 10 military aircraft near the no-fly zone that lies along the Northern Limit Line (NLL). The planes came within 5 km (3 miles) of the NLL in the western inland area, 7 km in the eastern inland area, and 12 km from the NLL off the peninsula’s western coast.

The short-range ballistic missile was launched from the Sunan area of Pyongyang and flew for 700 km over the East Sea, reaching an altitude of about 50 km. North Korea then fired artillery shots into the East and West seas at around 5 pm on Oct. 14.

What is noteworthy here is that the artillery fired by North Korea in the early morning and afternoon that day fell within the maritime buffer zones on either coast.

When working out the Sept. 19 Comprehensive Military Agreement, the two Koreas decided to create buffer zones on either side of the NLL, consisting of the zone north of Sokcho and south of Tongcheon in the East Sea and the zone north of Deokjeok Island and south of Cho Island in the West Sea. Under the agreement, the two sides agreed to cease all live-fire and maritime maneuver exercises within these zones.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff reported on Oct. 14 that starting at 1:20 am, about 130 artillery shots were fired from the Majang neighborhood in Hwanghae Province into the West Sea, and from 2:57 am, about 40 artillery shots were fired from Gueup Village, Kangwon Province into the East Sea.

At 5 pm that day, about 80 artillery shots were fired from the Jangjeon area in Kangwon Province into the East Sea and 200 artillery shots and waterspouts were observed from 5:20 pm spanning from the Haeju Bay area in the West Sea to the Jangsangot area, the Joint Chiefs said.

On his way to work, Yoon was asked if North Korea’s artillery firings were a violation of the Sept. 19 agreement. Yoon responded by calling the actions “regrettable,” adding that the government was carefully reviewing the situation and labeling them a “violation.”

However, the president drew a line when he was asked about the possibility of a preemptive strike, asking the reporter, “Why are you bringing something like that up?”

The National Security Council, which convened earlier in the day, also expressed “strong condemnation” of what they termed a “violation of the Sept. 19 military agreement."

Yoon’s comment suggests that South Korea will not remain bound to the Sept. 19 military agreement if North Korea crosses a so-called red line, such as by conducting a seventh nuclear test.

“It was North Korea that violated the Sept. 19 military agreement,” an official from the presidential office said. “Whether the agreement will be maintained or broken will ultimately depend on the attitude of North Korea.”

“Rather than abolishing [the Sept. 19 agreement], we are going to continue to demand North Korea’s compliance,” Vice Defense Minister Shin Beom-chul said during an appearance on YTN radio.

The Sept. 19 military agreement is a pact between the two Koreas aimed at completely suspending all hostile military activity along the inter-Korean border. It was signed during the inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang in September 2018.

The agreement includes plans for the establishment of a “peace zone” in the West Sea, the transformation of the Demilitarized Zone into a peace zone, and the suspension of military exercises along the Military Demarcation Line. The main goal of the agreement was to prevent accidental armed clashes along the border between North and South.

“The Sept. 19 military agreement serves as the last safeguard for peace on the Korean Peninsula,” commented Cheong Wook-Sik, director of the Hankyoreh Peace Institute and director of the Peace Network.

“The South and the North need to express their will to comply with the Sept. 19 agreement in order to manage the situation,” he added.

Meanwhile, the Development of Inter-Korean Relations Act states that it is impossible to completely suspend an agreement signed between the two Koreas, such as the Sept. 19 agreement. According to the Act, an inter-Korean agreement can only be suspended “for a fixed specific period, when significant changes occur in inter-Korean relations or when it is deemed necessary for national security, maintenance of order or public welfare.”

By Kwon Hyuk-chul, staff reporter; Bae Ji-hyun, staff reporter

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

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