ROK analysts say North Korea shows disregard for armistice

ROK analysts say North Korea shows disregard for armistice

Felix Kim

North Korea’s latest violations of the armistice with South Korea demonstrate its intent to provoke confrontation rather than pursue peace, South Korean defense analysts contend.

The North violated the agreement on November 13, 2017, when a North Korean soldier pursued a defector into South Korean territory. A month later, on December 20, 2017, North Korean troops opened fire toward the South when another soldier fled to South Korea, also known as the Republic of Korea (ROK).

The incidents reflect a pattern of behavior by the North that exhibits a desire to see the armistice broken, said Kim Youl-soo, chief of the National Security Strategy Center at the ROK Institute for Military Affairs.

“Since the armistice agreement was signed in 1953,” Kim told FORUM, “North Korea has violated it repeatedly, showing that they have no intent to abide by it.”

(Pictured: Col. Chad G. Carroll, a United Nations Command spokesman and public affairs director for U.S. Forces Korea, shows surveillance footage of a North Korean soldier defecting to South Korea. The footage shows a violation of the armistice between the countries because a North Korean soldier crossed the border while pursuing the defector.)

Kim cited such earlier violations as the 2010 artillery bombardment of the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong and the sinking of the ROK warship Cheonan, also in 2010. A team of international experts concluded the Cheonan was sunk by a North Korean submarine.

“Their goal is to neutralize the agreement,” Kim said of North Korea, “and have the U.S. forces leave South Korea in order to communize the entire Korea with their forces. As a matter of fact, in 1993, Pyongyang unilaterally announced that they would cease participating in the Military Armistice Commission.”

Violations by the North will continue, Kim believes, as it tries to leave the impression the agreement is no longer in effect.

Yonhap, a government-affiliated news agency in South Korea, reported that North Korea announced its disregard for the armistice six times between 1994 and 2013. Pyongyang’s response to the December 2017 defection, Kim said, has been to replace the guards and officers who failed to stop the North Korean soldier from defecting and punish them severely. Direct defections across the border from North to South as opposed to the more common route through China numbered 15 in 2017, Yonhap reported. Four of the 15 were soldiers. That compares with only five direct defections in 2016.

In the past, North Korean soldiers who violated the armistice and remained loyal to the communist regime have routinely been awarded with medals, Kim explained.

“Unfortunately, there is no official step that ROK or the U.N. can take regarding the violations,” he said. North Korea no longer attends commission meetings, and it only recently opened a long-dormant border hotline between the countries.

The chance of additional violations sparking an escalation in hostilities is a perennial danger, Kim said.

“We should strictly abide by the agreement and principles such as action rules,” he concluded. “Some may think launching counterfire may escalate into more serious conflict, but doing nothing can cause more serious problems because North Korea would attempt to make more provocations. What’s important is to follow rules. If counterfire is required, we must follow the rule and take action. This can deter the North from provoking further.”

Felix Kim is a FORUM contributor reporting from Seoul, South Korea.