November 14, 2023 13:55
The government has decided to scrap a no-fly zone and other parts of a 2018 military agreement with North Korea that continues to exist on paper and hampers military training.
The priority is to suspend parts of the agreement that hamper ground, maritime and aerial operations to alleviate security concerns in case North Korea plans a Hamas-style guerilla invasion.
The maritime buffer zone established by the deal has been frequently violated by North Korea over the past five years by artillery firing and opening of artillery gates, while the no-fly zone has disadvantaged South Korea by restricting the activities of reconnaissance planes.
The entire deal will be formally scrapped if there is another provocation by North Korea such as the launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile or space rocket, which use the same technology.
Defense Minister Shin Won-sik told U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin during the 55th Korea-U.S. Security Consultative Meeting held in Yongsan on Monday that some provisions are being suspended.
"The agreement was signed during the previous Moon Jae-in administration without proper process in an attempt at appeasement," a senior government official said.
The U.S. was sympathetic, and Austin said the U.S. will "continue the related cooperation."
The government could simply crap the deal since inter-Korean agreements are not subject to ratification by the National Assembly, but that could give North Korea a pretext for further provocations.
It also carries a mysterious force for the opposition Minjoo Party even though North Korea has violated it on an estimated 3,600 occasions.
The government believes that the agreement lacked proper practical checks and ignored due process by bypassing a review by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other military branches. It was hastily drawn up in just three months from June to September 2018, primarily by small-scale negotiating teams.
Its lingering force, however, has meant that the South Korean military has been unable to conduct drills with major weapons like K9 howitzers deployed to defend the northwestern islands over the past five years.
Maritime maneuvers by the South Korean Navy to have also been hampered by it. Instead, it had to transport large weapons on cargo ships for hundreds of kilometers to places outside the buffer zone like Yeoncheon in Gyeonggi Province and Pohang in North Gyeongsang Province.
North Korea has violated the agreement by firing artillery toward the West Sea buffer zone over 110 times and continuing its nuclear and missile development, but magical thinking seems to persist in the opposition and resistance to scrapping the entire deal has been fierce.
"Although it is clear that North Korea has no intention of abiding by the agreement, there are no provisions in it for punishment or a 'snap back' mechanism to the status quo ante," a government official explained. "To secure a minimum level of safety, there is a consensus among relevant ministries to suspend some provisions of the agreement temporarily."
The recent surprise attack by the Palestinian armed group Hamas on Israeli cities involving rockets, missiles and paragliders has added urgency to the government's plans.
At a state dinner Sunday ahead of the defense ministers' meeting President Yoon Suk-yeol gave vent to those concerns by urging Austin to "maintain the readiness posture of the bilateral alliance that can immediately respond firmly to any provocation, including unexpected attacks from North Korea like those of Hamas."
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