The Ministry of National Defense officially apologized yesterday in the aftermath of the ‘knock knock defection’ of a North Korean solider across the Military Demarcation Line near the east coast.
Minister of National Defense Kim Kwang Jin said in a statement, “As defense minister, I deeply apologize to the people for causing such anxiety.” The division commander responsible for the region and a number of other personnel are to be discharged and/or disciplined. The military will also take disciplinary action over the amendment of a report into the matter, and review frontline arrangements.
The dismissals are appropriate, for this was a clear and unacceptable defense failure. At the time, despite the fact that a single North Korean soldier had jumped over a barbed-wire fence or two and arrived at a checkpoint manned by the 22nd Division ready and willing to defect, the South Korean military remained at its lowest alert status. In short, nobody even noticed.
We are told that the terrain where the soldier crossed is low and apparently difficult to view from surrounding guard posts. But if so, the South Korean military should have installed additional defenses, for example listening devices, along the fence line. They did not; it was as though crossing were merely to be accepted.
Worse still, the CCTV which was supposed to be monitoring the area around the guard post 24 hours a day did not catch sight of the defector because it was facing the ammunition store. In other words, whereas North Korea has many surveillance cameras installed along its side of the border, South Korea only has one, and even this one didn’t work properly.
What is perhaps worse even than that is that nobody spotted the North Korean soldier as he wandered around for twenty full minutes even after crossing the barbed wire. In fact, he had to knock on more than one door to find someone willing to pay attention.
Clearly, the South Korean system did not work properly in any way. Perhaps this was because the defection occurred in an area that is a symbol of inter-Korean reconciliation, like the road and rail link to Kaesong in the west. But if overconfidence has led us here, then that should no more be the case. We have heard many times that the route to inter-Korean reconciliation also represents a pathway to infiltration, and so it appears.