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[Editorial] Perilous peace

Reconciliation is needed but it must not be pursued at the cost of security

Concerns over the inter-Korean military agreement adopted in Pyongyang on Sept. 19 have not eased much.

The clause to establish a no-fly zone is probably the most risky.

Due to the zone over the military demarcation line, unmanned aerial vehicles that South Korea planned to deploy near the line will become useless. Their detection distance is a few kilometers, while the zone stretches 10 or 15 kilometers from the line in either a southern or northern direction.

Drones capable of reconnaissance from outside the zone, ultrahigh-altitude reconnaissance aircraft and artificial satellites can still watch the North Korean long-range artillery near the line, but these are American assets.

The point of an arms control accord lies in trust and verification. Securing transparency of military activities through verification is the basis of trust, and is indispensable to easing concerns about a surprise attack.

Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets are essential means of verification. Ultrahigh-altitude reconnaissance can be carried out by the US, but scanning North Korean troops from the front line is a job the South Korean military has to do. The no-fly zone restricts its surveillance and reconnaissance ability severely. The zone will effectively blind frontline units and undermine their attempts at verification as well.

Rep. Baek Seung-joo of the opposition Liberty Korea Party revealed Monday that the test of the L-SAM, a South Korean long-range surface-to-air missile system being developed to intercept North Korean ballistic missiles, had been postponed twice.

The military authorities planned L-SAM tests in April and June, Baek said, and will resume the tests in October and November.

The Ministry of National Defense said the postponement was due to technical issues related to the development of the system, but the lawmaker suggested the tests were delayed in consideration of inter-Korean relations. Summits between South and North Korea and between the US and North Korea took place in April and June, respectively.

The L-SAM is a key part of the Korean Air and Missile Defense, which is one of three axes in the nation’s defense system along with the Kill Chain pre-emptive strike system and the Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation capabilities. The military authorities need to test it this time without delay in order to complete the three-axis system on schedule.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff said during a parliamentary audit Friday, “We will consider deploying US strategic assets and our three-axis defense system flexibly in step with the progress of denuclearizing North Korea.”

It is the first time that the military authorities have officially mentioned the possibility of modifying the three-pronged system under development.

South and North Korea agreed Sept. 19 to hold a joint military committee to deal with issues on large military exercises and armaments. The North will likely demand the modification of the three-axis system through the committee.

If the system begins to be modified while nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles remain in the North as they are, only the South’s defense ability will start to weaken.

Large joint military exercises with the US for this year were kept low-key or suspended, apparently to avoid piquing the North amid thawing inter-Korean relations. A small-scale joint military drill by South Korean and US marines was put on hold indefinitely as a follow-up measure for Pyongyang’s pledge to denuclearize itself and stop military provocations.

The South Korean military strength is focused on defense and deterrence, unlike the North Korean army, which is geared toward aggression and provocation. So, the military accord is likely to be unfavorable to the South.

The administration under President Moon Jae-in says that it is key in preventing accidental military clashes. On the other hand, however, it may go down in history as a risky accord which threatens the security of South Korea.

Reconciliation with North Korea is needed, but it must not be pursued at the expense of security and defense.

If Seoul is dragged by Pyongyang in the area of military out of fear that the North may scrap its pledge to denuclearize, the South may end up failing big time. Military issues are directly related to the survival of the nation. As for security, the nation should be always prepared for the worst.