The author spent early January 2017 commenting on the sensational news that “the American and South Korean special forces have agreed to eliminate the leader of North Korea.” In particular, on January 4, the Defence Minister Han Min-goo introduced a document entitled “Strong National Defence together with the People: Action Plan for 2017.” Among other issues, it contains the idea to create a special operations regiment tasked with the neutralization of the top military leadership of North Korea, including Kim Jong-un. Later on, the Ministry explained that they had planned to create it in 2019 but it was decided to accelerate the process. In the event of war, the special forces will have to get to Pyongyang “to immobilize the entire structure of power that directs military actions” and kill the top generals of the North. American military officers will participate in the creation of the regiment.
Talks about “murdering Kim Jong-un” are not a new occurrence. On October 13, 2016, during a meeting with military reporters the US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific Daniel Russell said that if Kim Jong-un gave the order to deliver a nuclear attack, he would die immediately. Of course, they tried to correct his words immediately: he intended to talk about the possibility of pre-emptive strikes on key military installations and bases of the North Korean leadership, at worst, the destruction of the political system under the control of Kim Jong-un.
On October 27, 2016, the US Air Force task group and the South Korean special forces held joint training exercises to simulate the capture and destruction of the North Korean nuclear and missile facilities under the code name Teak Knife at the military base in Kunsan in North Jeolla province. The allies played out the scenario in which their special forces would be delivered by plane to the territory of North Korea in case of an armed conflict. Such manoeuvres have been regularly held since the 1990s.
As a response to the aforementioned, in December 2016, Kim Jong-un “led the combat training of soldiers in a special forces battalion directly subordinated to the 525th unit of the Korean People’s Army” that exercised landing on a full-scale model of the Blue House – the residence of the South Korean President. Seoul strongly criticized this fact: a representative of South Korea’s Ministry of the Unification noted that the DPRK was trying to demonstrate that its regime is stable but the actions of Pyongyang did not promote stability on the Korean peninsula.
Therefore, in the author’s opinion, double standards should be avoided in this issue – either each party has the right to train for an attack on the model of the government complex and plan the liquidation of the command authority or such actions should be considered provocative whoever performs them.
Let us return to the subject of the acts of provocation as the military officers of the Republic of Korea are constantly talking about the inevitability of them. It does not matter that they are not taking place. This just means that they are not taking place for the meantime. On January 6, during the latest briefing, a representative of South Korea’s Ministry of Unification Chong Jung-hee said that there had been no signs of preparations for the acts of provocation observed so far but the South Korean military admitted that there was a possibility at any time. According to the Defence White Paper of the Republic of Korea for 2016, they expect cyber attacks and terrorist acts from the DPRK.
However, what are the Southerners doing at this time and to what extent are their military preparations comparable?
On January 2, 2017, South Korea conducted artillery practice, which according to Seoul was the world’s most large-scale in terms of the number of artillery ordnance simultaneously used in restricted space (228 barrels of various types of 155-mm artillery). The aim of the training was exercises to suppress the DPRK artillery.
At the same time, South Korea held major naval manoeuvres involving ships, aircraft of the Navy and the Coast Guard Service, and maritime special forces. As Seoul explained, the aim of the training was “to meet the possible threats from North Korea.” For this purpose, they conducted anti-submarine and anti-ship firing practice in the Japanese and Yellow Seas, as well trained in repairing damaged vessels. The manoeuvres involved the P-3 patrol aircraft, the Lynx anti-submarine helicopter, 20 ships, including the new 2.5 thousand ton Incheon destroyer, marine police boats, patrol ships and missile boats.
In late 2016, the Armed Forces of the Republic of Korea deployed the new Cheongung anti-aircraft missile system with a range of 80 km on the islands of Yeonpyeongdo and Baengnyeongdo. It is highly accurate (less than 15 meters from the target thanks to its GPS guidance device), and its strike range can cover an area of 22,000 square meters. Theoretically, Cheongung can eliminate the North’s long-range artillery.
In addition, the military are considering the possible deployment of Apache attack helicopters put into service last year on the North-Western islands.
Let us discuss these promising projects. This year, the Republic of Korea will develop a laser weapon capable of striking North Korean drones intruding into the South’s airspace. This decision was taken on December 28, 2016 at the government meeting on defence issues.
It was also decided to start studying technology for the remote recharging of small drones; to launch plans to unite information technology to improve the management efficiency of military forces; to test new soldiers’ kit, which monitors their health status, as well as to assess progress in the learning process.
South Korean politicians and the military officers are trying to justify it by citing data on North’s over-militarizat
However, the other statistics are rather curious –after the DPRK, Oman is ranked the second with 11.4%, and the third is Saudi Arabia with 8.5%. But in terms of militarisation, there are no complaints made towards them and apparently it cannot be said that “Riyadh and Muscat invest huge funds in the military capacity without raising the standard of living of their citizens.”
As for the neighbouring countries, the Republic of Korea is ranked the 47th – its index is 2.6%, the USA is the 15th with 4.3%, Russia is the 20th – 3.8%, China is the 68th – 2%, Japan is the 136th – 1%.
In addition, the DPRK is ranked the 2nd in terms of the share of military officers per working population – 7.9%. Eritrea is ranked the first – 8.1%.
However, if we consider the actual sums of the military expenses, the Republic of Korea spent on average 30 billion dollars a year during the period from 2004 to 2014, while North Korea spent 3.5 billion dollars, which was almost 9 times less. Statistical data can be interpreted in different ways. For example, calculating military expenses in terms of the population gives Arab regimes higher indices than that of North Korea.
If we consider the purchase of weapons, over the past 10 years (or more precisely, from 2006 to October 2016), the Republic of Korea purchased weapons worth 36 trillion 36 billion won or about $ 30 billion 500 million from the USA, while it is prohibited to even supply bullets to the DPRK. This is evidenced by the data of the Defence Ministry and the Korean Agency of Defense Development published on January 15, 2017. The sum specified above is almost equal to the military budget of the Republic of Korea last year, which amounts to $ 32.2 billion. In addition, Seoul spends $ 7.5 billion a year to maintain the American military base in Pyeongtaek (America spends $ 7 billion) and $ 22.3 million for the training program for the staff of the Korean Augmentation To the United States Army (KATUSA), under which the South Korean soldiers serve three years in the units and divisions of the US Army on a voluntary basis.
Of course, these costs were made public when Donald Trump demanded an increase in Seoul’s expenses for the maintenance of the US military contingent, in order to show that South Korea is already doing enough. If we consider these figures in a different political context, it is evident that the South is making no less effort than the North to increase the military tension on the Korean Peninsula.
Konstantin Asmolov, PhD in History, Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Korean Studies at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”