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South Korea threatens to end military pact with Pyongyang after alleged airspace violations

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol speaks at an interview with Reuters in Seoul, South Korea, on November 28, 2022. (Photo by Reuters)

South Korea’s President Yoon Suk-yeol has threatened to pull out of a non-hostility pact signed between Seoul and Pyongyang after North Korean drones purportedly violated the South’s airspace.

Yoon said on Wednesday that he would consider suspending the 2018 pact banning hostile activities in the border areas amid simmering tensions with North Korea. Yonhap news agency cited Yoon’s press secretary as saying that the president would consider withdrawing from the inter-Korean military pact if North Korea was to violate its airspace again.

Yoon made the comment after being briefed on countermeasures to alleged North Korean violations, which occurred last week.

Last week, during a cabinet council meeting at the presidential office in Seoul, South Korea’s president called for stronger air defense systems and advanced drones to better monitor and detect military activities by North Korea.

Since taking the helm of the country in May, the former judiciary official has been publicly pushing the military to take a tougher stance against the North and to stand ready to take retaliatory measures against what Seoul sees as Pyongyang’s provocations.

Inter-Korean relations have drastically deteriorated since Yoon took office and openly invited the United States to take part in joint military drills, including joint nuclear exercises, with South Korea.

Officials from South Korea and the United States said on Tuesday that the sides were discussing launching a tabletop exercise and engaging in joint planning to counter North Korea’s allegedly increasing nuclear threats.

US President Joe Biden and his South Korean counterpart “tasked their teams to plan for an effective, a coordinated response to a range of scenarios, including nuclear use by North Korea, and so that is what the teams are working on,” White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said at a briefing.

However, she said, “We’re not discussing joint nuclear exercises,” adding that South Korea was a state without nuclear weapons.

A US official familiar with the matter told Reuters that the US aimed to aid South Korea strengthen its military against the North “through enhanced information-sharing, joint planning and expanding the range of contingencies that we plan for, as well as training, and with the idea eventually leading up to a tabletop exercise.”

The timing of the planned exercises has not been finalized, but they would take place “in the not-too-distant future” and cover scenarios including but not limited to nuclear situations, the official said.

When asked about the tabletop exercise, a spokesperson for South Korea’s Defense Ministry said talks were underway but declined to provide details.

Some experts believe North Korea’s military advancements in developing missile technology and nuclear weapons as a tool for deterrence have far exceeded the South’s military capabilities.

“The US countermeasures have not kept up with the North’s advancing nuclear programs, and the extended deterrence strategy is almost no different from when their nuclear capability was insignificant and weaker,” said Go Myong-hyun, a research fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul.

North Korea last year launched an unprecedented number of missiles, including its most advanced inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) ever.

South Korea and its allies claim that the North is gearing up for launching what would be its seventh nuclear weapon test.

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