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N Korea scraps military deal with South, vows to deploy weapons to border

North Korea has escalated its pressure campaign against Seoul, declaring its immediate and complete withdrawal from the military agreement designed to reduce hostilities between the two nations. It also pledged to deploy its latest weaponry along the border with South Korea. 

The latest threat comes just a day after South Korea suspended the landmark 2018 inter-Korean military agreement as a countermeasure to Pyongyang’s illegal satellite launch that violated a United Nations Security Council resolution. Rocket technology can be used for both launching satellites and missiles. For that reason, the U.N. bans North Korea from launching a ballistic rocket, even if it claims to be a satellite launch.

“We will revoke all military measures previously taken to prevent military tensions and conflicts in all areas including land, sea, and air,” North Korea’s defense ministry said in a statement as cited by the official Korean Central News Agency Thursday.

“We will also advance the deployment of more powerful forces and new military equipment to the region along the Military Demarcation Line,” the statement added.

The main concern is centered on Seoul restarting its monitoring operations close to the border. North Korea perceives the surveillance activities, particularly involving new technology, by South Korea and its ally, the United States, as a major security threat due to its own lack of comparable technological capabilities. Thus, it has long protested against the allies’ surveillance activities near the border.

The two Koreas had agreed to halt each defined as hostile actions toward the nother near the border, but the North has conducted a number of provocations, violating the terms of the agreement.

According to South Korea’s Defense Ministry, North Korea has violated the agreement a total of 17 times up until last year since the agreement was signed. Critics in the South, thus, have long argued that the deal has already become ineffective, only serving to restrict Seoul’s operational and surveillance capabilities. 

“The situation in the Military Demarcation Line area has become uncontrollable and beyond repair due to the irreversible mistakes committed by the political and military gangsters of ROK,” the North’s Defense Ministry said, using South Korea’s formal name, shifting the blame for the worsening situation onto the South.

The ministry also cited the latest development as rationale for escalating its nuclear arms developments, stating that South’s hostility shows the “necessity and legitimacy of our ongoing prioritization of strengthening nuclear war deterrence and modernizing military power.”

In a latest display of martial protest, North Korea launched a ballistic missile late Wednesday – an apparent response to Seoul’s decision to suspend the military agreement.

North Korea launched an unidentified ballistic missile at around 11:05 pm Wednesday, from the Sunan area in South Pyongan Province towards its eastern coast, the South’s Joint Chief of Staff said. The South Korean authorities, however, added that it assessed the launch had failed.

“The intelligence agencies of South Korea and the U.S. are currently conducting further analysis,” the JSC said in a statement Thursday, without further elaboration.

Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the Seoul-based University of North Korean Studies, emphasized the necessity of a balanced approach involving both strong responses to the North’s violations and concurrent dialogue to manage tensions on the Korean peninsula.

“North Korea may proceed military provocation in the West Sea (Yellow Sea) near the Northern Limit Line (NLL) of South Korea, and could activate coastal artillery in this area. Additionally, if anti-Pyongyang leaflet distributions to the North occur in the border area, there could be armed responses, and if ROK-US-Japan strategic assets are deployed, it is likely to respond with ballistic missiles,” Yang said.

“Strong responses are necessary for North Korea’s violations of regulations. However, dialogue must also be concurrently pursued to manage the tensions on the Korean Peninsula,” the pundit added. 

“There have always been conflicts with North Korea across all administrations. Efforts in national defense should be made, but Seoul must also simultaneously engage in a two-track approach to maintain stability on the Korean Peninsula.”

Edited by Taejun Kang and Mike Firn.