South Korea mulls end to ‘confidence building’ military agreement with the North
Stars and Stripes January 4, 2023
CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea — South Korea’s president suggested he would suspend a nearly five-year-old agreement designed to lower military tensions with the North, a spokeswoman said on Wednesday.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol directed the National Security Office to consider suspending the agreement signed by then-South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo and his North Korean counterpart, No Kwang-chol, on Sept. 19, 2018, senior press secretary Kim Eun Hye said at a news briefing in Seoul.
The agreement, which immediately followed a summit in Pyongyang between then-South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, directs both Koreas “to completely cease all hostile acts against each other in every domain, including land, air and sea that are the source of military tension and conflict.”
The “confidence building” measures in the agreement established no-fly zones for aircraft and unarmed aerial vehicles and barred Seoul and Pyongyang from conducting artillery drills near the border.
Yoon during a meeting with senior officials Wednesday also directed the military to continue developing an “overwhelming response capability beyond a proportional level to North Korean provocations,” Kim said.
Yoon’s shift away from the agreement comes days after North Korean drones were detected in the South’s airspace for the first time in five years.
Five drones were discovered Dec. 26 over northern Seoul and on the western coast. They flew for roughly five hours and were visible from the ground, according to South Korea’s military. Despite a military helicopter firing about 100 rounds at the drones, none were downed.
The incident prompted the Ministry of National Defense to apologize for failing to take out a drone.
South Korea’s military responded to the incursion on the same day by sending three surveillance drones north of the border, according to the ministry.
The U.N. Command, which is tasked with enforcing the armistice agreement between North and South Korea, said it was investigating the incident.
Yoon, a member of the conservative People Power Party, also ordered the military to mass-produce small drones within the year, and develop an indigenous “drone-killer system,” Kim said during Wednesday’s news briefing.
North Korea violated the 2018 agreement on multiple occasions within the past year, according to Yoon’s administration. In addition to launching roughly 75 missiles in 36 separate days of testing in 2022, the North fired hundreds of artillery rounds toward a maritime buffer zone in October and flew military aircraft less than 3 ½ miles from a designated no-fly zone the same month.
Stars and Stripes reporter Yoo Kyong Chang contributed to this report.