North Korea Leadership Watch

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ROK "To Immediately Exercise Right of Self Defense"

Comic by Lee Scott for The Three Wise Monkeys

The full English text of ROK President Lee Myung-bak’s remarks is available here.

In a nationally televised address on the March 2010 sinking of ROK naval corvette Cheonan, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak declared his intention to invoke his country’s “right of self defense.”  Kim So-hyun reports in the Korea Herald:

“From now on, the Republic of Korea will not tolerate any provocative act by the North and will maintain the principle of proactive deterrence,” Lee said during a televised national address, which was followed by a joint press briefing by the ministers of unification, foreign affairs and defense.

“If our territorial waters, airspace or territory are militarily violated, we will immediately exercise our right of self-defense.”

Lee defined the Cheonan’s sinking as “a surprise North Korean torpedo attack,” saying that it “constitutes a military provocation against the ROK.”

Admitting the mistakes made by the South Korean Armed Forces, Lee said his government will “solidify national security readiness.”

“The discipline of the Armed Forces will be reestablished, military reform efforts will be expedited and combat capabilities will be reinforced drastically,” he said during the 10-minute speech.

“ROK-U.S. joint combat readiness will be further strengthened on the basis of the strong ROK-U.S. alliance.”

As its first military measure to punish Pyongyang for the deadly attack, Seoul will launch its own antiproliferation exercise and resume psychological warfare against North Korea, Defense Minister Kim Tae-young said during a joint press briefing following the presidential address.

As another retaliatory step, North Korean vessels have been prohibited from sailing in South Korean waters, previously allowed under an inter-Korean maritime pact signed in 2004, Kim said.

The South will also launch a joint antisubmarine military exercise with the U.S. in the West Sea that focuses on improving defense tactics against the North’s underwater attacks.

Kim said South Korea would aggressively participate in the U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative in and out of the Korean Peninsula as part of an international effort to stop the shipment of weapons of mass destruction.

South Korea, after years of hesitation so as not to provoke the North, decided to join the PSI following North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests last year.

“The maritime interdiction training exercises within the region will be led by our Navy and are currently planned for the latter half of this year,” Kim said.

“We will also participate in a maritime interdiction exercise outside the region hosted by Australia in September this year.”

Acknowledging his military’s lax system that allowed the North’s torpedo attack, Kim said his military would improve its defense posture and learn lessons from the sinking.

Lee also announced other punitive actions against the North including a suspension of inter-Korean trade and exchange, mentioning the killing of a South Korean tourist by a North Korean armed guard at the Mount Geumgang resort in 2008, the North’s recent confiscation of South Korean assets in the resort and the Cheonan’s sinking which killed 46 South Korean sailors.

“Under these circumstances, any inter-Korean trade or other cooperative activity is meaningless,” he said.

Lee added, however, that Seoul will continue to provide assistance for children in North Korea.

“Matters pertaining to the Gaeseong Industrial Complex will be duly considered, taking its unique characteristics into consideration,” he said.

The punitive actions were explained in more detail by the ministers of unification, foreign affairs and defense during the joint press briefing.

The DPRK National Defense Commission issued a statement responding to President Lee’s remarks.  Yonhap reports:

North Korea Monday rebuked President Lee Myng-bak’s statement as a “farce aimed at covering up the true nature of the ‘conspiratorial farce’ and ‘charade’ orchestrated by himself,” according to the North’s official Korean Central News Agency.

Calling Lee a “traitor,” a spokesman for the National Defence Commission, North Korea’s highest power, said the statement is “another clumsy farce aimed to cover up the true nature of the ‘conspiratorial farce’ and ‘charade’ orchestrated by himself and nothing but sophism let loose by him as an anti-reunification confrontation maniac keen on stifling fellow countrymen.”

“This is a hideous criminal act of totally denying and scrapping the historic June 15 joint declaration and the October 4 declaration (between the two Koreas), the programme for implementing it,” the KCNA further quoted the spokesman as saying.

Chang Jae-soon reports in Yonhap on the punitive actions the ROK is taking:

Tensions between the two Koreas have spiked sharply since a multinational team of investigators announced Thursday that North Korea attacked the Cheonan with a heavy torpedo near their Yellow Sea border. The North has vowed an “all-out war” if it is punished.

On Monday, President Lee Myung-bak harshly denounced the North for the sinking, vowing to unhesitatingly exercise the country’s right of self-defense in the event of future armed provocation by North Korea. Lee urged the North to apologize and punish those responsible.

Lee said Seoul will suspend all trade and exchange programs with the North, apart from a joint factory park project in the North Korean border city of Kaesong, while maintaining minimum levels of humanitarian aid for infants and children living in the impoverished country.

“Under these circumstances, any inter-Korean trade or other cooperative activity is meaningless,” Lee said, adding that North Korean ships will no longer be allowed to use South Korean waterways as short-cuts, including waters off South Korea’s southern resort island of Jeju.

South Korea’s foreign, defense and unification ministers held a joint news conference shortly afterwards to announce specifics for Lee’s plan.

Defense Minister Kim Tae-young said South Korea will hold a joint anti-submarine exercise with the United States off the peninsula’s west coast in the near future and launch its own ship interdiction drills targeting North Korea as part of the U.S.-led anti-proliferation program, known as Proliferation Security Initiative or PSI.

Kim also said South Korea was resuming propaganda loudspeaker broadcasts along the border toward the North.

Sam Kim writes in Yonhap that the DPRK is threatening to mute any propaganda broadcasts with artillery shells:

The threat came after South Korea announced it would install megaphones along the Demiltarized Zone and resume its anti-North Korea broadcasting that had stopped in a 2004 agreement with Pyongyang. North Korea also withdrew its megaphones that year.

If an anti-Pyongyang slogan on a South Korean building facing the North is not removed and loudspeakers are set up, “there will start the firing of direct sighting shots to destroy them,” an unnamed commander of North Korea’s central forces said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

“If the group of traitors challenges the just reaction of (North Korea), this will be followed by stronger physical strike to eliminate the root cause of the provocations,” he said, arguing his troops are enraged by the sight of South Korean equipment.

Yoo Jee-ho writes of the ROK’s military options in JoongAng Ilbo:

In a press conference yesterday, Defense Minister Kim Tae-young called North Korea’s denials “preposterous” and described the attack as “an act of brutality.” He said the South was consulting with other nations to create “military and non-military countermeasures.”

“Since the Koreas are under an armistice and still technically at war, problems may arise,” Kim said. “But there must be limits to the degree of hostile action. Our government will make sure North Korea pays dearly for what it’s done.”

Kim did not elaborate on what the military measures might entail, but said the South’s “firm” steps would include raising the Cheonan case at the United Nations Security Council, which could resolve to levy international sanctions on North Korea.

He also said the South Korean and the U.S. military are reviewing the possibility of elevating the five-level Watch Condition, or Watchcon, alert on North Korea by one notch, to Level 2.

Under a Level 2 alert, which indicates the presence of a vital threat against national security, South Korea and American forces would step up their intelligence and reconnaissance efforts.

The Watchcon in South Korea is usually kept at Level 3, which indicates a steadily rising threat that warrants careful monitoring, because of the potential threat from the North. The South has lifted the Watchcon to Level 2 on five previous occasions, most recently in May 2009, when North Korea conducted its second nuclear test.

Level 1, the most serious alert, has not been issued since the Korean War ended in 1953.

Kim said the Defense Ministry has asked the United Nations Command to investigate whether the North’s action violated the 1953 Armistice Agreement, as both the White House and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak have charged.

The Military Armistice Commission, under the UN Command, is expected to form a special investigative team to look at the issue and begin its probe as early as this weekend, Deputy Defense Minister Jang Kwang-il said yesterday. According to Jang, if the team determines that North Korea breached the terms of the Armistice Agreement, it will issue a formal complaint to the North and send its findings directly to the United Nations.

The Defense Ministry sent a dispatch to North Korea yesterday, urging its military representatives to attend the meeting with the UN Command to discuss the armistice commission’s findings.

Meanwhile, chairing an emergency National Security Council meeting yesterday, President Lee stressed the importance of a prudent response. But he also said the Cheonan attack “can be regarded as a military provocation that constitutes a violation of the UN Charter, the Armistice Agreement and the Inter-Korea Basic Agreement.”

A violation of the UN Charter would subject the North to Security Council sanctions. Its Chapter I, Article 2, Clause 4 states, “All members shall refrain … from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.”

The Armistice Agreement provides that neither Korea “shall execute any hostile act within, from, or against the demilitarized zone” and “naval forces shall respect the water contiguous to the demilitarized zone.”

The Inter-Korea Basic Agreement is a 1991 pact between the two countries calling for non-aggression and reconciliation.

Choe Sang-hun and Mark Ladler report on the US response in the IHT/NYT, including US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s trip the NE Asia neighborhood.

In Washington, the Obama administration said the South Korean measures were “entirely appropriate.” President Obama instructed American military commanders to coordinate closely with their South Korean counterparts to “insure readiness and deter aggression.”

“The Republic of Korea can continue to count on the full support of the United States,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in Beijing, where she was attending high-level talks between China and the United States that have been overshadowed by the crisis. “Our support for South Korea’s defense is unequivocal.”

And Sharon LaFreniere, also in NYT, writes about China’s response and US efforts at having China join the US, ROK and Japan in supporting sanctions against the DPRK:

But in discussions that began Sunday, China was resisting, and it has been skeptical of the claim that the North was responsible for sinking the ship. Scholars say such misgivings are typical when China is asked to side against North Korea.

“There’s not much more that can be done to sanction North Korea,” said Shen Jiru, a strategic studies expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing. “China basically feels that sanctions or other tough measures only serve to escalate conflict with North Korea, and others tend to agree.”

Still, a small but influential group of Chinese scholars insist that accommodating North Korea has not worked, and China needs to take a new and tougher tack.

“The Chinese government so far has done too much to protect North Korea,” said Chu Shulong, a professor of international relations at Tsinghua University in Beijing. “Why should we protect them? Why should we treat them so specially? I think China needs to change its approach.”

Wei Zhijiang, a visiting Chinese scholar at the University of Tokyo who specializes in North Korea, said that if China decides not to support a Security Council resolution, it should push for some other punishment. “Certainly North Korea must pay the price somehow,” he said. “Maybe apologize, pay compensation and promise this will not happen again.”

China’s reluctance to censure the North is not rooted in affection for its policies. In private discussions, one American analyst said Sunday, Chinese officials express frustration with North Korea’s growing belligerence. But like their Washington counterparts, they say, they have no good option to deal with it.

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