South and North Korean leaders conducted their third summit in Pyongyang with the public goals of improving South-North relations, decreasing military tension, and the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
But one of the most significant events during the summit was an agreement between the Republic of Korea’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) and the North’s Ministry of People’s Armed Force.
The MND said that the agreement contributes to the genuine establishment of trust and reduces tension between the South and North, hence allowing this agreement to serve as a catalyst for the improvement of South-North relations.
The agreement contained consensus on eight issues; the cessation of ground hostile actions, the cessation of hostile maritime actions, the cessation of aerial hostile actions, procedures on operations, the withdrawal of Guard Posts (GPs) within the De-Militarized Zone (DMZ), the disarming of the Joint Security Area (JSA), the joint recovery of remains, and the mutual use of the Han river estuary.
- Cessation of ground hostile actions; stop all artillery live fire and maneuver exercises by both North and South Koreans forces on a three kilometer zone along the DMZ.
- Cessation of maritime hostile actions; establish a buffer zone in the West and East sea. No live fire or sea maneuvers within the buffer zone.
- Cessation of aerial hostile actions; establish flight limits on fixed wing, rotary wing, unmanned Aerial Vehicles and balloons.
- Procedure on Operations; identifies steps and stages for ground, sea and air operations to prevent unintended incidents.
- Withdrawal of GPs; agreement that both sides shall withdraw eleven GPs each by December 2018.
- Disarming the JSA; Form a North-South-UNC committee to discuss the total disarming of the JSA. Transform the JSA into a symbol of peace and reconciliation.
- Joint recovery of remains; conduct a joint recovery of South, North Koreans as well as UNC remains within the DMZ.
- Mutual use of the Han River estuary; conduct joint survey and guarantee peaceful use of the Han River entrance.
Regardless of the future significance of this document, the first question is how this affects the Armistice Agreement, the goal of which is to ensure peace on the Korean peninsula.
The eight measures listed above appear to support the armistice and do not conflict or contradict the armistice agreement in letter or spirit. Coordination and cooperation with the United Nations Command (UNC) on some of the details will still be required, but this does not constitute meddling, nor is it an issue of sovereignty, as some suggest: it is a matter of set procedure.
Reflecting on the fact that the North Koreans have been advocating and working to nullify the Armistice Agreement for more than twenty years, this new agreement must focus, for the moment, on supplementing the Armistice Agreement rather than being a substitute to it.
The second question is what effect this will have on the South Korean military’s battle-readiness. The initial impression is that the South will have to compensate regarding the training of the affected branches but that overall the trade is worthwhile. For instance, crews will have to move further away from the front and spend more time training.
The third question is how this affects the North Koreans.
If the North Koreans follow through on their promises, there is potential for Southern tactical advantages. In the West Sea, South Korean ships remain at the mercy of North Korean coastal batteries.
The agreement to cover and eventually dismantle these batteries will provide safety to our sailors. The North Koreans have been flying Unmanned Aerial Vehicles into South Korea, which is a significant threat. This agreement prohibits future flights.
North Korean GPs are connected by a six foot, often electrified, fence. When the GPs go, these fences should move back too. These are all good measures that will do exactly what the agreement states: improve trust.
Another aspect worth considering is what the agreement does not address. For instance, balloons flown into North Korea by South Korean activists will be a sticky issue. Past and present South Korean governments have been unsuccessful in preventing these civilian activities.
Finally, how does this affect the ROK-U.S. alliance?
As long as the Republic of Korea and the United States military communicate and cooperate in a timely manner there should be no adverse effect. As the agreement is implemented and put into effect, the ROK and U.S. must maintain a clear and effective line of communication. This is something that has been conducted successfully so far.
As long as this is true, the alliance will remain strong.
As details of this agreement are discussed and implemented there will certainly be areas requiring refinement. The mission of the military, after all, is to defend the nation and support the democratically elected leaders of this nation.
Although this agreement is being referred to as a de facto “Non-Aggression Treaty,” it is only the start of a long process. Much work remains to be done.
Edited by Alessandro Ford and Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: Pyeongyang Press Corps