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One year on, inter-Korean military agreement makes little progress

One year on, inter-Korean military agreement makes little progress

Posted September. 19, 2019 07:19,   

Updated September. 19, 2019 07:19


The South Korean military authorities said Wednesday that the September 19, 2018 inter-Korean military agreement made substantial contributions to easing the military tensions and building trust between the two Koreas. The cessation of mutually hostile activities in the ground, maritime and aerial buffer zones agreed between the two Koreas are being implemented, while the two sides are working together to block illegal fishing by a third country via their wired and wireless telecommunication network, evacuate patients in frontline areas, and exchange typhoon damage information on a nearly daily basis, Seoul’s military said. It also assessed that the agreement is leading complete denuclearization of and the establishment of permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula as well as paving the way for the development of the cross-border relations.

Many observers criticize such assessment as self-praise neglecting the realities. The September 19, 2018 agreement, which was signed by the then defense ministers of the two Koreas, consists of six articles and 22 clauses on follow-up measures for the disarmament of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the creation of a peace zone off the west coast, and the regularization of inter-Korean military talks.

However, there has been little progress in implementing the agreement due to the North’s lack of cooperation, except for the withdrawal of 11 guard posts in the frontline areas within the DMZ and the prohibition of hostile activities within the ground, maritime and aerial buffer zones.

The proposed joint duties and free travels within the Joint Security Area (JSA) has made little headway, as the North insists on excluding the United Nations Command, which controls the area. The projects of jointly excavating the remains of soldiers killed in action during the Korean War, establishing a peace zone near the Northern Limit Line off the west coast, and installing direct military telephone line have also been stalled due to Pyongyang’s failure to respond. Rather, North Korea has been escalating tensions by conducting 10 test-fires of four new weapons targeting the South, including short-range ballistic missiles. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un went as far as to making blatantly threatening remarks while watching the test-fires, claiming that they were “warnings from Pyongyang.”

Many critics say that such an attitude is in direct violation of Article 1 of the agreement calling on both sides 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.”

Nevertheless, the South Korean government and military authorities insist that while the North’s provocations go against the spirit of the agreement but are not in its violation “The government and the military’s attitude that seems to downplay or speak for the North’s behavior, rather than criticizing it, prompts Pyongyang to make bolder provocations and, consequently, add to security concerns,” said an informed source on military affairs. On Wednesday, a South Korean military official remarked that Pyongyang is criticizing Seoul’s plan to purchase F-35A stealth jets for a reason, saying that it is an “enormous issue from the North’s point of view.”

Sang-Ho Yun ysh1005@donga.com