South Korea's military issued an ultimatum to North Korea, stating that Seoul could suspend the 2018 inter-Korean military agreement if the North conducts another military spy launch. The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) issued a rare warning, declaring, "If North Korea proceeds with the military reconnaissance satellite launch despite our warning, our military will take necessary measures to protect the lives and safety of our people." The statement did not elaborate on the specific measures but emphasized Defense Minister Shin Won-sik's remarks regarding suspending the inter-Korean military agreement.
The military's warning to North Korea likely stems from its determination to break the cycle of provocations with a resolute response, especially as Pyongyang's launch of a reconnaissance satellite is imminent. South Korean and U.S. intelligence officials believe North Korea is nearly finalizing its preparations, having recently moved its satellite launch equipment to the Tongchang-ri Sohae Satellite Launching Station in North Pyongan Province. Notably, this third satellite launch is expected to have a high probability of success, unlike the failures of the first and second attempts. The observation is that, due to the 'dangerous arms deal' between North Korea and Russia, the North has received a 'one-point lesson' from Russia on technical errors and has sufficiently resolved them.
If the South Korean military suspends the South-North Korea Military Agreement, it is likely to resume reconnaissance activities and military exercises in the contact zone that have been prohibited under the agreement. The South Korean military reportedly plans to activate division- and corps-level unmanned surveillance vehicles, which were not allowed in the no-fly zone under the agreement, to monitor North Korean long-range artillery. Additionally, they may conduct artillery fire and naval drills in the buffer zone. While it remains unclear whether these warnings will be sufficient to deter North Korea from launching a satellite, they are sure to make Pyongyang nervous, given its past casual violations of the agreement, such as unmanned air vehicle incursions.
The South Korean military's determination to stand firm against the North Korean threat is a natural and inevitable response to North Korea's endless provocations. However, there is a high probability that North Korea will make dangerous attempts, such as missile tests and localized military provocations, in protest against this resolute response. This increases the likelihood of military tensions and accidental clashes between the two Koreas. It is more urgent than ever for us to be as prepared as we are resolute.