(by Evan Ramstad, WSJ.com) SEOUL – North Korea declared Friday that it would no longer abide by its military and economic agreements with South Korea, in another expression of anger at Seoul’s unwillingness to restart the strings-free economic assistance it ended last year.

The statement added to the barrage of criticism and verbal abuse that North Korea began heaping on the South a few weeks after President Lee Myung-bak took office last February.

Mr. Lee ended a decade of unquestioned outreach to North Korea by tying economic assistance to the reduction of Pyongyang’s nuclear-weapons program. The move cost North Korea about $300 million last year, a sizable sum to the North, which produces just a few billion dollars in economic output annually.

Friday’s declaration prompted another cool response from the South’s government, which expressed “deep regret” for the North’s statement but also reminded Pyongyang that none of the inter-Korean agreements, some of which date to the 1950s, carry a provision that allows for one side or the other to abandon them unilaterally.

The small industry of professors, military and intelligence officials who monitor North Korea scrambled to parse the statement for a deeper meaning. Early assessments ranged from a signal of the likelihood of a skirmish in boundary waters of the Yellow Sea to a call for attention from the new U.S. presidential administration to a reflection of division between the North Korean military and its ruling elite.

Despite the escalation in rhetoric, North Korea has taken no actions toward South Korea that would produce any cost for itself. Since the anti-South campaign began last April, the North’s most significant step was the expulsion of several hundred South Korean government and business workers from a joint industrial park on the North-South border. However, it kept all the factories open and fully staffed with North Korean workers.

Several analysts noted that Pyongyang’s increased anti-South rhetoric today is still no match for the volume of propaganda it produced in decades past. “They have a lot of things they could say to ratchet things up that they haven’t yet done,” said Daniel Pinkston, senior analyst at International Crisis Group in Seoul.

The growing frequency of North Korea’s foot-stomping over Seoul’s assistance cutoff also reflects the desperation facing Pyongyang as it copes with food shortages and higher prices, shaped in part by the global economic downturn.

As well, analysts note, the two Koreas operate on two different levels diplomatically. The North’s leadership believes that strong words are the only way to deal while the South’s leaders want a reasoned give-and-take similar to how they deal with other countries.

“I think North and South Korea have entered into a game of chicken,” said Moon Chung-in, a professor at Yonsei University in Seoul and participant in inter-Korean summit meetings in 2000 and 2007. “In terms of guts, a democratic society is usually weaker than an authoritarian one. That will be the dilemma for the South’s government.”

Write to Evan Ramstad at evan.ramstad@wsj.com.

Copyright 2009 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.  Reprinted here for educational purposes only.  Visit the website at wsj.com


1. a) Name the capitals of North Korea and South Korea.
b) Name the leaders of North and South Korea.

2. Why has North Korea said it will no longer abide by its military and economic agreements with South Korea? Be specific.

3. How did the South Korean government respond to North Korea’s announcement?

4. a) Define escalation and rhetoric as used in paragraph 6.
b) Apart from an escalation in rhetoric, what action has the North Korean government taken to express its anger over President Lee’s withdrawal of economic assistance?

5. What do analysts think North Korea’s motive is for its announcement to end its military and economic agreements with South Korea?

6. For further understanding of the North Korean government, read the “Background” below, and at least one of the articles under “Resources.”


ON NORTH KOREA: (from the CIA World FactBook)

  • An independent kingdom for much of its long history, Korea was occupied by Japan in 1905 following the Russo-Japanese War. Five years later, Japan formally annexed the entire peninsula. Following World War II, Korea was split with the northern half coming under Soviet-sponsored Communist domination.
  • After failing in the Korean War (1950-53) to conquer the US-backed South Korea (Republic of Korea – ROK) by force, North Korea (DPRK), under its founder President Kim Il Sung, adopted a policy of ostensible diplomatic and economic “self-reliance” as a check against excessive Soviet or Communist Chinese influence.
  • North Korea demonized the US as the ultimate threat to its social system through state-funded propaganda, and molded political, economic, and military policies around the core ideological objective of eventual unification of Korea under Pyongyang’s control.
  • Kim’s son, the current ruler Kim Jong Il, was officially designated as his father’s successor in 1980, assuming a growing political and managerial role until the elder Kim’s death in 1994.
  • After decades of economic mismanagement and resource misallocation, North Korea since the mid-1990s has relied heavily on international aid to feed its population while continuing to expend resources to maintain an army of approximately 1 million.
  • North Korea’s history of regional military provocations, proliferation of military-related items, and long-range missile development – as well as its nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs and massive conventional armed forces – are of major concern to the international community. [Kim Jong-il is an oppressive dictator who makes his people call him “Dear Leader”]


Go to worldatlas.com for a map of North and South Korea.

Read a previous article on President Lee’s position on North Korea at studentnewsdaily.com.

For a clear explanation of the history of North Korea’s nuclear program, read John Podhoretz’s commentary at NYPost.com.

Read an interview with John Bolton (former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.) at politico.com.

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