An asymmetry of military strength
In August 2013, Korea launched the multipurpose satellite Arirang 5 and an opposition lawmaker who attended the launch said one of those purposes includes capturing video images of North Korea. The Arirang 5 project cost 238.1 billion won, and the satellite has synthetic aperture radar (SAR) to capture images on earth regardless of the weather. South Korea launched a 200 billion won satellite while North Korea sent a 20 million won drone with a digital camera. The difference is clearly asymmetrical.
North Korea could also use the Antonov-2 biplane to penetrate the South. It was first manufactured in the Soviet Union in the late 1940s, and according to former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense Wallace Gregson, it is made mostly with fabric and wood and cannot be easily detected by radar. In case North Korean special forces invade the South at a low altitude, the South Korean military has installed digital low-altitude radar systems in various places.
Not only military strength but also the systems used by South and North Korea are asymmetrical. UAVs are kept under the Reconnaissance Bureau of the North Korean People’s Army, headed by Kim Yong-chol. Six years ago, he came to the Kaesong Industrial Complex and spoke to South Korean factory managers. “In the South Korean drama ‘Yi San,’ there is a line that goes, ‘The people are the water, and the king is the boat on the water.’ When the public sentiment is stirred, the boat is overturned,” he said. He was quoting the line from the Korean drama to criticize the Lee Myung-bak administration’s policy on North Korea.
South Korea is an open society and is exposed to the North in every way. The recently found drones did not return to the North, but Pyongyang now knows what they are capable of. They hovered over the Socheong and Daecheong islands in an S-shape, and the drone that flew over Paju, Gyeonggi, took nearly 200 photos. But South Korea does not know for sure when the North Korean drones were sent or how many of them are in operation.
When the South’s administration changes, public sentiment is expressed through opinion polls. But we have to go through indirect channels to understand how North Koreans feel about the third-generation power succession. The appointment hearing in South Korea publicizes the thoughts of the National Intelligence Service director, but we haven’t verified when Kim Won-hong became head of the North’s equivalent of the NIS.
The asymmetry of military strength can be resolved by investing in deterrence. We have to instinctively believe that our system is superior. At the same time, an open society - where everyone is free to say anything, but not everything is taken as common sense - should prevail. Only then, the power of a free society can be maintained. Four years ago, over the sinking of the Cheonan, our society was divided between those who believed the government report and those who didn’t. This time, some people have expressed doubts on social media that the drones are from North Korea. But the debate is not likely to turn to the Cheonan controversy of four years ago.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 9, Page 30
*The author is a deputy political and international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
BY CHAE BYUNG-GUN