Alarms from the borderThe South’s military was caught off guard on the border when a North Korean male successfully crossed a wire fence to enter the South in November. The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) announced Wednesday that a North Korean defector landed on the coast of Goseong County, Gangwon, in the early morning on Tuesday after swimming in the East Sea wearing a civilian diving suit. But our military issued its highest level alarm at 4:20 a.m. Tuesday, hours after he had been caught in CCTV footage from a checkpoint 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) south of a guard post on the border. A commander hurriedly dispatched a search team and captured the defector, but commanders had already repeatedly ignored the defector’s suspicious movements even though they were caught several times earlier by surveillance equipment along the east coast.
That’s not all. The defector was able to pass through a narrow drainage tunnel installed beneath the wire fence on the east coast. To prevent infiltrations or exits, those drainage tunnels have sharp, thick metal rods inside, which have now been damaged.
When a South Korean citizen defected to North Korea through a drainage tunnel last July, it was also damaged. At the time, the JCS vowed to fix the problem. That turned out to be an empty promise.
Another problem involves our military’s preparedness. When the defector crossed the border, the military had already ratcheted up the level of defence to brace for any contingency from the heightened alarms in North Korea for the occasion of its leader Kim Jong-un’s birthday. Nevertheless, the South’s military has been sitting on its hands.
Our military has repeatedly shown its weak points in its security against North Korea, particularly on the border around the east coast. Last November, our armed forces missed a North Korean successfully crossing a barbed wire fence, and in 2012, a North Korean soldier even knocked on the door of a barrack in the South after crossing the border undetected. Our military must be criticized for its overly lax discipline.
The Moon Jae-in administration has been championing peace with a nuclear-armed North Korea without any reassurances from it. To appease Pyongyang, Seoul went so far as to suspend or scale down its own military drills or even those with the United States, and placed officers on top posts without considering their genuine qualifications. Even if the Defense Ministry spends a whopping 52.8 trillion won ($47.7 billion) this year to modernize and reinforce weapons, it cannot expect our combat capabilities to get a boost under such circumstances. We hope our military will wake up and think about its raison d’être before it’s too late.