North’s changing strategy
In his first meeting with then-South Korean President Kim Dae-jung on June 14, 2000, the North Korean leader at the time, Kim Jong-il, said the National Security Act of South Korea must be abolished to normalize relations between the two. The South Korean president calmly refuted.
Citing the preface of the rules and regulations for the North Korean Workers’ Party, Kim said, “The North has a clear intention of Communist unification with the South, so how can we abolish the National Security Act?”
The North Korean leader then replied that he would call on the seventh congress of the party and revise the regulations, thereby resolving the tension between the two.
But the party’s seventh congress never took place. Party delegates held a conference in September 2010, though only minor changes were made. That indicates that North Korea’s unification strategy of liberating the South remains unchanged.
However, the nuance in the New Year’s address by North Korea’s current leader, Kim Jong-un, is different.
“Enforcing its own ideology and system on others will never resolve the issue of unification peacefully, and it can only bring about confrontation and war,” he said. “Our socialism, focused on our people, is the most superior, but we have never forced it on the South and we won’t.”
Of course, it’s not true that the North never forced its ideology onto the South. It is undeniable that the North committed acts of infiltration, harming our people, destroying and creating chaos in the South.
And yet, it is interesting that the “dear leader” argued that Pyongyang wouldn’t force its ideology on us.
Let us think back on the different times the North has infiltrated the South. In the past, North Korea directly sent spies over ground, river and sea, creating underground organizations to gather supporters in the South.
When a “critical moment” comes, they are tasked to lead a people’s revolution in the South. Therefore, South Korean law enforcement authorities focused on cracking down on spies, their key agents, their liaisons and their servants.
But that trend changed after 2000. According to the 2014 Defense White Paper by the Ministry of National Defense, the North committed 1,761 direct infiltrations into the South between the 1950s and the late 1990s, but none were committed in the 2000s.
Infiltrations overseas occurred 139 times in the 1980s and ’90s, but only 14 were detected in the 2000s, and none since 2010.
By contrast, spies disguised as North Korean defectors infiltrated the South twice in the 2000s, and 12 times from 2010 to 2013.
Most of the spies who were recently arrested are not resident espionage agents who established a meticulous network by posing as defectors. They focused more on surveying other defectors living in the South.
It is particularly noteworthy that most of them were sent from the Ministry of State Security, tasked to defend the North Korean regime, not the United Front Department, which handles operations against the South.
In other words, the North used to send spies for a Communist unification of the South, but it is now focused on stopping a growing society of defectors in the South and the South Korean government from undermining the legitimacy of its regime.
This change indicates that the North’s strategy has shifted from an assertive posture with the intent to overthrow the South Korean system to a defensive posture in which it wants to protect its regime.
That’s why we must pay attention to Kim’s New Year’s address - in which he said the North won’t force its system to the South. So the South, then, must give up its intention to unify with the North with its own formula.
Many would contend that Pyongyang’s regime already has many followers, so it probably doesn’t need additional infiltration operations. But the shift from an assertive posture to a defensive posture has significance.
It’s true that the gap between the North and the South has widened so far that the North can no longer compete against us.
The South must improve its strategy to counter this shift. If we are naive in assessing the North’s defensive posture too optimistically, it could be problematic. But cornering the North to the edge of a cliff and taking too offensive a position would be an inappropriate choice, too, as it would give North Korea impetus to stage a provocation.
The South must be wise and use the present as an opportunity to improve inter-Korean relations and analyze of this changing reality with a cool head.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 12, Page 35
*The author is a political science professor at Yonsei University.
by Moon Chung-in