North Korea scraps key military pact with the South

Following the launch of North Korea’s first spy satellite on Tuesday night, and South Korea’s resumption of border surveillance in response, the North scrapped a key military pact between the two neighbours yesterday (Thursday).

It’s quite the escalation, though it didn’t come out of nowhere.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signed the Inter-Korean Comprehensive Military Agreement (CMA) with his then counterpart in the South in 2018. The idea was to build mutual trust and lower tensions by:

  • banning some drills near the border’s demilitarised zone (DMZ)
  • ceasing all live-fire maritime exercises in certain regions, and 
  • creating military no-fly zones around the DMZ. 

The pact was good in theory, but it wasn’t working out too well in practice:

  • The two neighbours had frequently accused each other of violations (e.g., Kim blew up a joint liaison office on the border in 2020), and
  • Critics in Seoul were already saying the pact favoured the North in the way it placed limits on the South’s surveillance activities.

So now Kim has axed the deal altogether, and the announcement says he’ll “deploy more powerful armed forces and new military hardware”.

For its part, the South’s defence minister said before parliament yesterday, “if North Korea stages provocations under the pretext of the suspension, we will respond immediately, strongly and until the end.


Some say this pact was effectively already ‘dead’. If that’s the case, then Kim has now simply signed the death certificate, with little concrete impact.

But the broader context makes a difference here.

First, Kim has continued to make advances in his military capabilities. And if his new satellite is working, he’ll have more accurate intel on South Korean, Japanese and US forces in the region, which can shift the balance of power.

Second, Kim now enjoys stronger Russian support, including at the politicaldiplomatic, and technological levels, so he’s less isolated.

And third, tensions (🇨🇳) between the North and South’s respective treaty partners (China and the US) remain high, notwithstanding last week’s talks between Presidents Xi and Biden.

So in our view, the collapse of this particular agreement, and in this particular context, is a concerning development. Even the EU just said it “strongly condemns” Kim’s actions this week. 🔥🔥🔥

Also worth noting:

  • North Korea says the spy satellite will “make a significant contribution to definitely ramping up the war preparedness” of the country.
  • A US Carrier Strike Group is currently completing a port visit in South Korea and will likely conduct deterrence exercises thereafter.
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