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Yoon considers suspension of military agreement on reducing tensions with NK

Agreement sealed 5 years ago in Pyongyang was centerpiece to Moon Jae-in's NK policy

Jan. 4, 2023 - 15:16 By Shin Ji-hye
Kim Eun-hye, public relations chief, speaks at a press briefing at a presidential office on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

President Yoon Suk-yeol ordered the nation's spy chief to consider suspending an inter-Korean military agreement signed in 2018 to reduce military tensions if North Korea commits provocations again. The commander in chief also instructed the military to establish a joint drone unit capable of mass-producing small, undetectable drones, the presidential office said Wednesday.

Yoon's instructions came after he was briefed about the response strategy to North Korea’s drones by the National Security Office, Defense Ministry, Joint Chiefs of Staff and Agency for Defense Development, according to Kim Eun-hye, his public relations chief.

Seoul has been pushing to strengthen the defense shield after North Korean drones roamed over Seoul and the metropolitan area for about five hours on Dec. 26. The five drones all returned to North Korea after Seoul failed to disable them.

“The review of the suspension of the Sept. 19 military agreement is based on the decision of the head of the administration and the commander in chief of the nation’s armed forces,” a senior official of the presidential office said on the condition of anonymity.

“We hope that there will be no further provocations from North Korea to prevent this from happening.”

The Sept. 19 military agreement was signed by the defense chiefs of the two Koreas in 2018 in Pyongyang to implement measures such as a complete halt to mutual hostilities, and is considered a landmark achievement for the former Moon Jae-in administration’s North Korean policy.

Under the military pact, the two Koreas set up “buffer zones” around the border areas on land, air and sea to ban all live-fire artillery drills and field training exercises at various levels within 5 kilometers of the Military Demarcation Line. No Fly Zones were designated to prevent aircraft from flying too close to the border.

But, the North continued to violate the agreement last year by launching ballistic missiles into the East and West seas and firing artillery shots in the buffer zones.

The presidential office said North Korea explicitly violated the military agreement a total of 17 times, including 15 times since October last year.

Another source from the office who spoke on condition of anonymity said if the North continues with its provocations, the government could also review using broadcasting propaganda via loudspeakers along the border with North Korea, which it considers an asymmetric strategy.

At the meeting on Wednesday, Yoon ordered Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup to come up with a plan to respond to drone provocations. Such a plan includes the creation of a joint drone unit to perform multipurpose missions such as surveillance, reconnaissance and electronic warfare, according to Kim.

The president instructed Lee to build a system to mass-produce stealth drones within the year, stressing the need to develop a killer drone system.

“A drone unit so far has not had any effective training," the senior source at the presidential office said.

“At this time, it is a unit capable of performing various missions, including electronic warfare and psychological warfare, beyond limited missions.”

Over the controversy that arose a day prior, when US President Joe Biden denied he was discussing joint nuclear exercises with South Korea, the senior official said, “Regarding information sharing, joint planning and joint execution between the two countries, South Korea and the US agreed at the security consultative meeting in November last year.”

The two countries closely discussed ways to contribute to “substantial extended deterrence beyond the nuclear umbrella in Korea,” which itself does not possess nuclear weapons, the official added.