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Current Issues and Policies

Agreement on the Implementation of the Historic Panmunjom Declaration in the Military Domain: Truths and Misconceptions
2018.10.11  Thursday
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Chung Kyung-young

Agreement on the Implementation of the Historic Panmunjom Declaration in the Military Domain: Truths and Misconceptions


October 11, 2018

Dr. Chung Kyung-young

Adjunct Professor, Hanyang University



The controversy surrounding the Annex of the September 19 Pyongyang Joint Declaration, the Agreement on the Implementation of the Historic Panmunjom Declaration in the Military Domain (hereafter, September 19 Inter-Korean Military Agreement), has been escalating. Despite the agreement having significance in building military trust and preventing accidental military clashes between the two Koreas, it sparked several criticisms regarding the terms: some opines that the buffer zone in the West Sea as South Korea’s abandonment of the Northern Limit Line (NLL); and the designation of No Fly Zone for all aircraft, cessation of all live-fire drills and field training exercises within the demilitarized zone (DMZ), and withdrawal of guard posts (GP) within the DMZ have caused fatal risks to the defense of the Seoul metropolitan area. Also, the critics argue that the ‘Inter-Korean Joint Military Committee’ consulting matters such as blockade, interdiction, and military build-up are a violation of the UN sanctions against North Korea and North Korea is now capable of interfering in South Korea’s military enhancement.

This paper assesses the key details of the September 19 Inter-Korean Military Agreement and its implications. It also corrects the misconceptions related to the military agreement based on facts and articulates the policy recommendations regarding the execution of the agreement.


Assessment of the Key Details of the September 19 Inter-Korean Military Agreement

1. Key Details

The September 19 Inter-Korean Military Agreement is a culmination of two general-level talks, eight document exchanges, and three military talks including one that spanned 17 hours, and 52 times of consultation with the United Nations Command throughout the whole process.

In the first article, South and North Korea agreed to completely cease all hostile acts against each other, including to cease all live-fire artillery drills and field exercise training exercises within the 5km off of the DMZ, to designate No Fly Zone, and to take a common five-step procedure to prevent any accidental military clash.





In Article 2, the two Koreas agreed to devise military measures to transform the DMZ into a peace zone. To this end, they decided to withdraw all GPs within the DMZ, demilitarize the Joint Security Area (JSA), continue consultations on military assurance measures related to joint survey and excavation of historical remains within the DMZ. Article 3 stipulates the transformation of the area surrounding the NLL in the West Sea to a maritime peace zone along with assurances for safe fishing activities — avoiding accidental military clashes and acts of hostility and seeking measures to designate a pilot joint fishing zone and joint patrol.

Article 4 touches on the military assurances measures to invigorate exchanges, cooperation, contacts, and visits — discussing the shared use of Han River Estuary and use of Haeju Passage and Jeju Straits. Finally, Article 5 states that the two Koreas will install and operate direct communication lines between military officials, composing and operating the ‘Inter-Korean Joint Military Committee’ for mutual military confidence-building — to consult sensitive military issues such as arms reduction, delimitation of the maritime peace zone and joint fishing area.



2. Assessment of the Agreement

Should the two Koreas observe the terms of the September 19 Pyongyang Joint Declaration and the Military Agreement, it will lay the foundation toward a Korean Peninsula free from nuclear weapons and threats and war through defusing military tensions and building confidence between the two countries. The September 19 Inter-Korean Military Agreement especially provides crucial grounds to drive the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The negotiations on denuclearization cannot take a step further when accidental military conflict or acts of hostility occur between the two Koreas in the process of negotiations.

Moreover, Seoul and Pyongyang reached a hands-on military measure to comply with the purpose of the armistice agreement, completely demilitarizing the DMZ for the first time since the armistice agreement was signed 65 years ago — in accordance with the nomenclature. It also adds the meaning by transforming the West Sea area, a potential flashpoint, into a maritime peace zone free of acts of hostility and accidental use of force.

The Arrowhead Hill, located within the DMZ and Chorwon-gun, was a fierce battleground between South Korean, U.S., and French forces and North Korean and Chinese forces during the Korean War. The joint search and recovery of remains will enable reconciliation and remedy of scars between the two Koreas by sensing the brutality of war. The joint excavation project of Taebong historical remains will contribute to restoring national homogeneity.

Additionally, several terms are also notable, serving mutual interests of the two Koreas: devising joint patrol measures to ensure safe fishing activities and to deny fishing activities of third parties in the maritime peace zone and pilot joint fishing zone; seeking military guarantee measures to connect and modernize eastern/western railways and roads, to ensure freedom of navigation of private vessels, and to share use of Han River Estuary including extraction of sands.

In sum, the September 19 Inter-Korean Military Agreement has crucial connotations attached in realizing the future security strategy for a Korean Peninsula free of nuclear threats and armed conflicts.



Truths and Misconceptions of the Agreement

1. Is the Agreement on Maritime Peace Zone in the West Sea Renouncing the Legitimacy of the NLL?

Simply put, the maritime peace zone in the West Sea has been demarcated to prevent acts of hostility and inadvertent military clashes in the West Sea, especially the waters surrounding the five islands in the West Sea, which has been a tinderbox of inter-Korean naval conflict, under the premise of adhering to the NLL —not renouncing the NLL.

Some argue that South Korea conceded more territorial waters to North Korea by delimiting the maritime peace zone — a total of 135km, 50km from the NLL location north of Baekryeongdo to Chodo to the North and the 85km to Deokjeokdo to the South. This argument overlooks the fact that the peace zone encompasses the land area, not just the territorial waters. As

suggests, the zone encloses the area where the lines drawn northward and westward from Deokjeokdo and the lines drawn southward and eastward from Chodo meets—including all the land area of Hwanghaedo. To prevent accidental clashes in the area, the agreement stipulates that the two Koreas ceases all live-fire artillery and maritime maneuver exercises and even install covers on the barrels of coastal artilleries and ship guns and close all gunports within the zone.



The West Sea is the likely flashpoint where a collision or provocation could escalate into a war as South Korea experienced two battles of Yeonpyeong, sinking of ROKS Cheonan, shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, etc. with deaths of 54 soldiers and 2 civilians. Hence, it is desperate to transform the region in a peace zone. The 108 artillery batteries along the North Korean coast and the 122mm self-propelled howitzers which bombed the Yeonpyeongdo, silkworm missile, etc. are banned. The two Koreas agreed to cease all maritime maneuver exercises and live-fire artillery drills to avert accidental military clashes fundamentally.

The surveillance activities to defend the NLL will continue and the military posture in case of infiltration or armed provocation from the North remains combat-ready. In case of North Korean army infiltrates or carries out a provocation against the South, the South Korean army will defend the NLL with a do-or-die spirit as it has defended with blood since the end of the Korean War.

Moreover, the South Korean Navy could conduct maritime maneuver exercises south of Deokjeokdo; whereas North Korea is restrained to conduct maritime exercises because it has to move its warships 130km northward from Chodo since its naval bases are located in Jangsangot and Sagot.


2. Regarding the transformation of the DMZ into a peace zone from a point and a line to plane, is it not the withdrawal of a same number of GPs a problem and is the withdrawal pursued without the United Nations Command (UNC) which oversees the management of the DMZ?

The transformation of the DMZ into a peace zone begins from a point and a line to the plane — the point is the demilitarization of the Joint Security Area (JSA); the line is the withdrawal of the GPs along the Military Demarcation Line (MDL); and the plane is the ultimate withdrawal of all the GPs within the DMZ itself.

Since the Axe murder incident in Panmunjom on August 18, 1976, the two sides installed heavy firearms and established demarcation lines by laying a concrete slab along the line —prohibiting passage. The demilitarization of the JSA is to improve the current state from imposing safety measures first — such as removal of landmines, withdrawal of heavy firearms, and removal of the concrete slab — to allowing joint security and free travel around the area as previously intended.

The North Korean military operates 160 GPs within the DMZ, 2.5 times more than the South Korean military which operates 60 posts. Given such facts, some critics claim that the agreement to withdraw 11 GPs from each side equally has the problem of proportionality. This is a worthy criticism when criticizing only the proportionality.


However, this criticism neglects the objective of the agreement — the removal of the risk of collision. The two Koreas agreed to withdraw 11 GPs in total which are within 1 km distance between one another due to the high possibility of an accidental military clash, five in the western point and three each in the mid and eastern front by the end of this year. And from next year onwards, the two Koreas decided to withdraw all the GPs within the DMZ. Thus, it is only a matter of time for the proportionality issue to be resolved.

The argument that the agreement was reached unilaterally without the consultation with the UNC is also incorrect. The ROK Ministry of National Defense held working-level talks with the UNC 52 times and the Defense Ministry’s director-general for North Korea policy explicated the details twice to UNC Commander Vincent K. Brooks. Former Defense Minister Song Young Moo also met General Brooks as well as U.S. Defense Secretary James N. Mattis, indicating that the terms were determined under the ROK-U.S. bilateral consultation. For example, the ROK army sent troops and mine clearance equipment to clear the road of entry to carry out demining operations in the JSA and joint excavation projects within the DMZ on October 2 under the UNC approval, a clear manifestation that this has been done with prior consultation and consent with the UNC.



3. Are the cessation of live-fire drills and field training exercises in the MDL on the ground and the designation of a No Fly Zone expose Seoul Metropolitan area to critical risk?

In Article 1, clause 2 of this inter-Korean military agreement, it states that ‘the two sides agreed to cease various military exercises aimed at each other along the Military Demarcation Line from November 1, 2018.’ The two Koreas also decided to cease completely the live-fire artillery drills and field training exercises at the regiment level and above on the ground and to designate No Fly Zones within the 40km from the MDL in the East and within 20km from the MDL in the West. Critics rail against these terms, asserting that this rather amounts to the disarmament of the military and that it has caused serious risk to the defense of the Seoul metropolitan area by nullifying South Korea’s reconnaissance and surveillance assets of which the South has an overwhelming advantage over the North.


This misconception originates from the misinterpretation of the purpose of the agreement. It is difficult to discern whether live-fire artillery exercises and large-scale field training exercises are actually drills or preparatory moves for provocations. Accordingly, the two Koreas agreed to cease live-fire artillery exercises and field training exercises at the regiment level to avoid misjudgments. Currently, the division defending the truce line allocates one regiment across the truce line consisting of one security battalion directly guarding and patrolling across the truce line and one ready-reserve battalion at the rear. Because the agreement states the cessation of field training exercises at the regiment level and above, it does not restrict battalion-level exercises within 3km distance from the southern boundary line. Obviously, no training exercises are limited beyond the 3km-limit, including large-scale training exercises at the regiment level and above. Therefore, the assertion that the South Korean army has been disarmed is inaccurate.

Meanwhile, the airspace above the DMZ becomes a No Fly Zone as of November 1. For fixed-wing aircraft, the No Fly Zone applies to 40km within the MDL in the East and 20km within the MDL in the West. As for the rotary-wing aircraft, the No Fly zone is designated 10km from the MDL. The agreement prohibits activities of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, commonly known as drones) in areas within 15km from the MDL in the East and 10km from the MDL in the West. Even hot-air balloons are forbidden within 25km from the MDL. The designation of a No Fly Zone also drew criticisms. Because the ROK-U.S. Combined Forces have an absolute advantage over the North Korean forces in terms of surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, some condemn that the agreement opened a fissure in the military’s defense posture, especially in defending the Seoul metropolitan area, blinding the military.


While some surveillance and reconnaissance activities are restricted, the surveillance posture against North Korea will be only trivially affected as comprehensive intelligence gathering activities remain intact dual- and triple-barbed lines installed along the southern boundary line, platoon-level operation of more than 200 guard posts, on-ground surveillance equipment, signal intelligence, imagery intelligence, etc. superior to North Korea.

Especially, in the case of the western area, the No Fly Zone of 20km from the MDL will rather make the Seoul area, a narrow area, more secure since the South Korean military could detect and respond when North Korean fighter jets approach.

Moreover, the two Koreas agreed on new rules of engagement in every domain, including land, air, and sea, to prevent any accidental military clashes. On land and at sea, the two sides will take a five-step procedure: initial warning broadcast→secondary warning broadcast→initial warning fire→secondary warning fire→military action. In the airspace, a four-step procedure will be enforced: warning radio and signal → interdiction flight → warning fire → military action. The rules of engagement are also a meaningful measure to defuse tensions between the two sides.

The September 19 Inter-Korean Military Agreement that aims at preventing military clashes and hostile acts in all domains have been reached after a close review of operations whether it restrains military operations or not. It is the preliminary measure for military confidence-building on the Korean Peninsula. Stronger inter-Korean confidence will prompt earnest confidence-building measures such as withdrawal of North Korea’s long-range artillery which threatens Seoul and eventually lead to arms reduction.


4. Does the inter-Korean consultation on blockade, interdiction, large-scale military exercises, and military build-up not breach the UN sanctions against North Korea, intervene in South Korea’s military reinforcement, and suspend ROK-U.S. joint military drills?

Such questions and criticisms are also specious. The two Koreas will constitute the ‘Inter-Korean Joint Military Committee’ when the denuclearization procedures make progress and the two Koreas build sufficient trust, not under the current situation where North Korea faces UN sanctions. The restrictions on military build-up will also be discussed in terms of arms control between the two Koreas. Finally, ROK-U.S. joint military exercises take place under the leadership of the ROK-U.S. alliance, not the Inter-Korean Joint Military Committee.



Conclusion and Policy Recommendation

The South Korean government’s pioneering ideas, concerted efforts from the international community including the U.S. and national enthusiasm are required to change the Korean Peninsula from a land of division and confrontation to a foundation of peace and co-prosperity through denuclearization and military confidence-building.

Regarding the implementation of this agreement, the inter-Korean military talks should discuss the issues in detail: closure of gunports situated on North Korean soil within the peace zone in the West Sea, the verification of demilitarization of the JSA and withdrawal of GPs through ROK-DPRK-UNC trilateral consultative body, designation of a new common airspace that replaces the existing one, usage of Camp Bonifas heliports and other heliports near the DMZ, etc.

Moreover, the South Korean army should have plans to relieve the trepidations of military preparedness in the process of implementing the agreement, such as: non-live-fire intense training to fire immediately whenever necessary and circulatory deployment of artillery units in the five islets in the West Sea; enhancement of maritime maneuver exercises south of the peace zone in the West Sea, establishment of new training grounds to replace the training grounds within the zone prohibited of live-fire exercises and intensification of simulation training; complementary measures to gather imagery intelligence respecting the No Fly Zone; and plans to operate drones. Also, it should reaffirm that it will not risk the security of the Seoul metropolitan area by taking the NLL as an option for negotiations or compromise and continue surveillance activities to defend the NLL.

While respecting the authority and activities of the UNC, the two Koreas should manage the environment to avert acts of hostility occurring by implementing the military agreement such as the peace zone in the West Sea and the transformation of the DMZ into a peace zone. Also, the South Korean government should maintain watertight joint combat readiness with the U.S. to be poised to respond to unexpected circumstances as well as great transformation in the security of the Korean Peninsula based on rock-solid strength.




This article is based on the author’s personal opinion and does not reflect the views of the Sejong Institute.



*Translator’s note: This is an unofficial translation of the original paper which was written in Korean. All references should be made to the original paper.