Seminar Report: “Can the NLL and the West Sea Peace and Economic Cooperation Zone Coexist?”
July 26, 2013
Controversy over the Northern Limit Line (NLL, 북방한계선) has erupted again following the release of documents by South Korea’s National Security Service detailing conversations made during the 2007 summit meeting between Kim Jong Il and then-President Roh Moo Hyun. Established soon after the Korean War and long considered by South Korea to be the inter-Korean maritime border, the NLL has been a point of controversy between the two Koreas since the 1970s. However, this inter-Korean dispute recently became a domestic South Korean one after President Roh expressed willingness at the 2007 summit to create an inter-Korean “peace and economic cooperation zone” in the West Sea (서해평화협력지대), a move that many argue would lead to the “abandonment” of the NLL. On Tuesday, July 23, 2013, the Network for North Korean Democracy and Human Rights (NKnet) held a seminar to discuss the NLL’s legitimacy and what implications the absence of the NLL could have on South Korean security.
The presenters were uniform in their views that the NLL is legitimate. In his presentation, Hallym University professor Ku Bon Hak argued that the NLL’s legitimacy under international law originates from the “doctrine of acquiescence”; in other words, that “silence shows consent.” Noting that North Korea never expressed opposition to the line until 1973, some 20 years after its creation, Korean Institute for National Security Affairs Director Kim Tae Jung listed cases in the past where North Korea has tacitly accepted the line. These cases included a 1959 North Korean almanac marking the maritime military demarcation line (MDL) as the NLL; a 1984 case where a North Korean freighter bringing flood aid to South Korea made the exchange of goods at the NLL; and the long-standing fact that North Korea has prevented its own fishing boats from going south of the line over the past 60 years, demonstrating tacit North Korean recognition of the line as the maritime border. Furthermore, the presenters noted the fact that the two Koreas agreed in the 1992 Basic Accords that the “military division line on the sea would be the area in which both sides have had authority over until now.” Given that South Korea has held de facto authority over the area south of the NLL for the past 60 years, the presenters argued that the Basic Accords further legitimatized the NLL and South Korea’s control over the area.
While the conference participants agreed that the release of the 2007 summit dialogue records did little more than increase divisions between the left and right in South Korea, they criticized former President Roh’s negative position toward the NLL. They argued in particular that he overlooked the important role the NLL plays in South Korean security. Specifically, they pointed out that the NLL provides a buffer zone to protect Seoul and the region surrounding Incheon and also safeguards South Korean access to the West Sea Islands (서해5도). They noted that the close position of the West Sea Islands to the North Korean mainland is useful for both staving off a potential North Korean attack and conducting intelligence operations in the region.
In their concluding remarks, the participants agreed that the removal of the NLL can only occur when outstanding South Korean security concerns towards North Korea are resolved.
Following an opening speech presented by NKnet Chairman Yu Sae Hee (유세희), the conference began with a short introduction by Sejong Institute President Daesung Song (송대성), who presided over the event. Following two presentations by Kim Tae Jung (김태준), the director the Korean Institute for National Security Affairs (한반도안보문제연구소), and Ku Bon Hak (구본학), a professor at Hallym University of Graduate Studies (한림국제대학원대학교), a discussion on the presentations was made by Kim Hyun Gi (김현기), a professor at Kyonggi University of Graduate Studies (경기대 대학원), Gyeong Seob Oh (오경섭), a researcher of unification strategies at the Sejong Institute (세종연구소), and Kim Yun Tae (김윤태), the secretary-general of NKnet.