North Korea Leadership Watch

Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership

DPRK To "Retract all measures for providing military guarantees"

A South Korean warship drops antisubmarine bombs during a naval drill in waters off the western coast on Thursday. Yonhap

Sam Kim reports in Yonhap that MPAF General Staff Department issued a statement renouncing the DPRK’s military agreements with the ROK:

“The (North Korean military) will retract all measures for providing military guarantees for the north-south cooperation and exchange,” the North said in a statement.

It also warned of “a prompt physical strike at the intrusion into the extension of the Military Demarcation Line under our side’s control in the West Sea of Korea.”

The general chiefs of staff added its army will “mercilessly respond” if Seoul resumes its anti-Pyongyang propaganda broadcasts along the heavily armed border after a six-year hiatus.

In apparent retaliation for the ban the South imposed on North Korean commercial ships and airplanes from its territory, the North said it will carry out a similar measure against the South.

The staff also said it is “immediately” cutting off its hot lines that have been used for emergency situations while shutting down military liaison offices on both sides of the peninsula.

North Korea already announced earlier this week it would sever all ties and suspend dialogue with South Korea as long as President Lee Myung-bak is in office in Seoul.

The two Koreas, technically at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty, forged an agreement in 2004 to prevent accidental clashes in the Yellow Sea.

Their navies exchanged gunfire in 1999 and 2002 near the Northern Limit Line (NLL), which Pyongyang has yet to honor because it was drawn by a U.S. commander at the end of the war.

Seoul has considered the pact practically void since the sinking of the Cheonan, which observers say could be an act of retaliation for another skirmish near the NLL in November last year.

KCNA carries the General Staff’s statement, which lists seven (7) “crucial measures to cope with such action”:

1. The KPA will retract all measures for providing military guarantees for the north-south cooperation and exchange.

It will start examining the closure of the military communications liaison offices in the eastern and western coastal areas and the total suspension of the overland passage concerning the Kaesong Industrial Zone, etc. for the present.

2. As for the anti-DPRK psychological campaign which the puppet military is set to resume, merciless counteractions will be taken throughout the frontline areas as the commander of the forces of the KPA in the central sector of the front had already warned the enemy side.

3. Bilateral agreements concluded to prevent accidental conflicts in the West Sea of Korea will be declared completely null and void.

In this connection the use of international maritime ultra-shortwave walkie-talkie will be banned and the communications line which has been in service to handle an emergency situation be immediately cut off.

4. The KPA will make a prompt physical strike at the intrusion into the extension of the Military Demarcation Line under our side’s control in the West Sea of Korea.

5. It will totally ban the passage of warships, airplanes and other means of transportation of the group of traitors through the territorial waters, air and land of the DPRK.

6. It will strictly ban the entry of the group of traitors including the puppet authorities into the DPRK.

7. It will probe the truth about the “fabrication” and “charade” to the last as long as the group of traitors persistently refuses to receive the inspection group of the DPRK National Defence Commission.

Yoo Jee-ho reports in JoongAng Ilbo:

In its latest threats to Seoul, North Korea declared yesterday it would “completely nullify” inter-Korean agreements providing military guarantees with South Korea and void another pact designed to prevent naval clashes off the west coast.

The North also said it would consider taking measures to ban all South Koreans and their vehicles from entering the Kaesong Industrial Complex, without giving a specific time frame.

The two Koreas held military talks in 2003 and again in 2007 to agree to military safeguards for inter-Korean land and rail travels. The two signed a deal in 2004 at another round of discussions to use maritime communications to avoid accidental clashes in the waters.

North Korea warned yesterday that if South Korean ships intrude into North Korean seas, it will launch “a prompt physical strike.”

The threats came on the same day the South Korean Navy staged its first anti-submarine exercise since the probe into the sinking of the Navy patrol ship Cheonan concluded that the North had sunk the 1,200-ton corvette.

Military officials said about 10 ships, including a 3,000-ton destroyer, participated in the single-day exercise. The Navy is also planning a joint anti-submarine exercise with U.S. forces.

The threat to ban all South Koreans and their vehicles from entering Kaesong followed a threat Wednesday that the North would cut off South Korean access to an inter-Korean zone on the west coast – indicating Kaesong – if the South resumed propaganda broadcasts over loudspeakers along the border, as it said it would Monday.

Kim So-hyun reports in the Korea Herald on the ROK’s anti-submarine exercises in the West Sea:

South Korea heightened vigilance for additional military provocations from North Korea and began an antisubmarine drill on Thursday, a week after announcing that the North torpedoed its warship in March.

The antisubmarine exercise took place in the West Sea and was the first naval exercise since the Cheonan sank near the inter-Korean sea border two months ago.

A 3,500-ton destroyer, three 1,200-ton patrol ships and six high-speed boats were deployed in the drill during which soldiers practiced dropping antisubmarine bombs and firing artillery shells, according to an officer at the Navy Second Fleet Command in Pyeongtaek.

Having raised the alert level against North Korea, the South is keeping a close watch on the North’s military movements.

Seoul on Wednesday raised the level of WATCHCON, an alert state system used by and coordinated between South Korea and the U.S. to measure reconnaissance posture, from WATCHCON 3 to WATCHCON 2, which is in effect amidst “indications of a vital threat.” WATCHCON 1 is in effect during wartime.

“We are on full alert for unusual military movements,” Defense Minister Kim Tae-young told a group of senior journalists on Thursday.

“We have not detected any serious, major movements of North Korean troops so far” since the South prohibited North Korean vessels from passing through South Korean waters and resumed anti-Pyongyang propaganda broadcasts along the border as punitive measures for the Cheonan attack.

Seoul is preparing itself against a number of possible provocations by the North including holding South Koreans hostage in the joint factory park in Gaeseong or firing at South Korean vessels along the Northern Limit Line. The North refuses to accept the NLL, a sea border drawn by the U.N. Command in 1953.

Jung Sung-ki reports on the preparations for trouble in Kaesong for Korea Times:

The militaries of South Korea and the United States are charting scenarios on a possible hostage crisis at the joint Gaeseong Industrial Complex in North Korea, as tension is rising over the sinking of the South Korean Navy frigate Cheonan on March 26, the country’s defense chief said Thursday.

“There is a possibility that South Korean workers may be held at the Gaeseong site, so the government is discussing countermeasures with the United States,” Minister of National Defense Kim Tae-young said during a breakfast meeting with senior journalists at the ministry in Seoul.

Kim didn’t elaborate on what kind of scenarios and course of joint military action were being talked about.

On Monday, the Seoul government said the number of South Korean citizens at the Gaeseong complex will decrease.

North Korea expelled eight South Korean officials from the industrial park, Wednesday, and threatened to shut it down should Seoul resume propaganda broadcasts at the border.

About 900 to 1,000 South Koreans stay at the complex on weekdays, and about 300 to 400 on weekends, according to a Ministry of Unification official.

The figures will be cut by as much as 60 percent, the official said, asking not to be identified.

Established in 2003, the complex is considered the last symbol of improved inter-Korean ties. More than 120 South Korean companies employ about 42,000 North Koreans there, the official said.

Three Navy frigates participate in an anti-submarine exercise off the west coast, Thursday, amid growing tensions with North Korea, which was found responsible for the sinking of a South Korean Navy ship in March. A total of 10 warships, including a 3,500-ton destroyer and six high-speed patrol boats, joined the one-day exercise. (Korea Times)

Lee Chi-dong reports that the Cheonan issue will monopolize ROK President Lee Myung-bak’s meeting with PRC Premier Wen Jiabao:

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak plans to use his upcoming talks with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to convince Beijing to support Seoul’s tough countermeasures against North Korea for its deadly naval attack on the Cheonan, one of the South’s warships, in March, Lee’s aides said Thursday.

“In their meeting tomorrow (Friday), security conditions on the Korean Peninsula, including the Cheonan incident, will be discussed,” Kim Eun-hye, spokeswoman at the presidential office, Cheong Wa Dae, said at a press briefing. “President Lee will explain our position (on the issue) and ask for China’s cooperation.”

Wen plans to arrive in Seoul on Friday afternoon. His first trip to South Korea in three years is timed to allow him to attend an annual trilateral summit also involving Japan’s Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama. The event will be held this weekend on the southern resort island of Jeju.

Northeast Asia Matters has a translation of a paper by KINU fellow Chon Song-hun, who wrestles with the DPRK’s “future attitude”:

In the future, North Korea will attempt to incite mistrust and criticism for the [South Korean] government and create conflict among South Koreans by giving a political, economical, psychological blow by means of heightened tension through an offensive strategy toward the South. North Korean ships’ infiltration of the NLL [Northern Limit Line] will continue and there is a likelihood that North-South maritime collisions may occur. As a counter offensive to South Korea’s reaction, [the North] may fire surface-to-ship missiles against [the South] ships. Regarding the Kaesong Industrial Zone, [the North] would not easily close it in consideration of economic benefits and the domestic, international burdens in the aftermath of closing the zone. For the time being, [the North] will use the tactic of pressuring South Korea with the card of possible hostage-taking of the South side’s workers. Nevertheless, in case the situation worsened, [we] cannot rule out the possibility that [the North] would take the measure of closing the zone.

Sunny Lee interviews David Straub who does not foresee a major “armed conflict” on the horizon:

A sense of crisis was palpable when the Washington Post said the current standoff was “perhaps the most serious crisis on the Korean Peninsula in more than two decades.” The New York Times similarly said the situation on the peninsula already appears to be “the closest” the two countries have come to open hostilities since 1994, when the North threatened to turn Seoul into a “sea of fire.”

Straub, who served as the State Department’s Korea desk director for two years from 2002, has a different take. “Even though the government of Lee Myung-bak and the Obama administration in the U.S. are taking further steps, they’re not being provocative and they’re not taking military steps directly against North Korea,” he said.

On the North Korea side, he said the way the attack was conducted reveals that Pyongyang also doesn’t want a full-scale military confrontation with Seoul either.

“If North Korea was seeking war or a major military conflict, then it would have launched an open attack on the Cheonan. What it did was, it engaged in a carefully-planned sea attack, apparently in the belief that as long as it was carefully conducted, it would be able to deny its involvement and make it very difficult for South Korea to respond.

“That suggests that North Koreans are well aware of the dangers of open military conflict with South Korea and also the relative weakness of their military,” he said.

Some Korean analysts still see an armed conflict in store if Seoul goes ahead with propaganda broadcasts across the militarized border and Pyongyang responds militarily.

Chinese experts are not an exception. In the Chinese state television program, “Global Watch,” on Thursday, Piao Jianyi, the chief of the Center for Korean Peninsula Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said: “The South’s expected psychological propaganda broadcasting is extremely worrisome.”

The North said it would shoot out the speakers used; and the South replied that such an act would meet a military response.

Straub, who first arrived in Seoul in 1979 when the Cold War was in full swing, again discounts the fear. “Broadcasting propaganda on one’s own side of the border is not a cause for war,” he said.

“Even if there are some incidents along the Demilitarized Zone, we should not scare ourselves. Over the decades, there have been many incidents around DMZ. And a war has not occurred,” he said.

An affiliate of 38 North