There is much discussion about psychological warfare against North Korea. It is well known that some defector NGOs fly balloons across the DMZ, while others voice concern over the possible entry of the Ministry of National Defense into this arena and balk at the risk of North Korean retaliation and conflict.
There are also those who say that the Ministry of National Defense should not interfere, and there are still others who believe that there is no need to aggravate the North Korean regime as it frets over the Jasmine Revolution.
There are even those who consider psychological warfare to be interference in the domestic affairs of a sovereign nation and an act of aggression, and say it should be stopped immediately. In part, they are right, and the details should therefore be carefully considered. Nevertheless, there is something I wish to point out to those who would argue that psychological warfare against North Korea represents an act of aggression.
The only country which has thus far been engaged in a tremendous psychological war is North Korea. In threatening to turn Seoul into a sea of fire and bring a nuclear catastrophe to bear upon the Korean Peninsula, North Korea has worked hard to cow the South Korean people.
There is no stronger type of psychological warfare than this, and it makes the South Korean people question whether it is even possible to argue with a nuclear armed North Korea. This is now one of the key reasons why we waver over whether or not to respond to North Korea’s provocations.
Recently, the North’s psychological warfare has become more indiscriminate; they abuse South Korea's democracy, where freedom of speech is guaranteed, by developing psychological warfare methods which attack South Korean society at large; North Korean hackers are constantly infiltrating South Korean cyberspace and distorting public opinion with their malicious comments on internet forums.
At the very same time, any opinion other than that of the Supreme Leader does not exist in North Korea, and there is no method by which we may legitimately communicate with the North Korean people. South Korea was once dominant in the arena of psychological warfare thanks to loudspeakers and electronic display boards installed along the Military Demarcation Line (MDL), but even this was completely halted at the request of North Korea in 2004.
In short, when viewed through the lens of the psychological warfare conducted by North Korea, balloons do seem rather insignificant.
We must also consider the North Korean people’s right to know, of course. Bringing the reality of the outside world to the North Korean people, people who are mostly isolated and struggle to hear or see anything other than that news which their regime deigns to provide, helps to achieve this.
Indeed, some experts consider passing on Libyan news by balloon or distributing food so as to let people eat to be less a part of the psychological dimension, and more a movement for universal human rights. Debating the issue of psychological warfare is a good thing, but people should keep these facts in mind as they conduct the debate.
Furthermore, North Korea's own electronic warfare capability has recently emerged as a point of interest to the South Korean people. North Korea attempted GPS signal disruption during the Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise in August of last year, and did something similar during Key Resolve-Foal Eagle this year.
These are obviously serious provocations, and since they are also in violation of the charter of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), which prohibits deliberate attempts to cause confusion in a foreign country, we should request an ITU investigation and demand that North Korea both prevent a recurrence and compensate South Korea for its losses.
But it is important on the other hand to note that if the South Korean people become excessively afraid of this, it could result in getting entangled in the North’s psychological war.
First, it is important to keep in mind that so far the damage done by North Korean GPS signal distortion, which works by transmitting on the same frequency as the GPS itself, has not been great.
However, South Korean civilian aircraft operate using Inertial Navigation System (INS), which is unaffected by signal distortion; GPS is used as a subsidiary method. Since military aircraft use GPS on a separate frequency and with encryption, they are not affected, either.
Naturally, when a GPS distortion signal is detected during a flight, all pilots are trained to stop using GPS immediately and switch to separate navigation equipment.
North Korea repeatedly undertaking electronic warfare even though they are unable to do much harm to South Korea is intended to reveal their ability to disturb and divine South Korea's ability to cope; however, there appears to be another intention, too.
Based on North Korea’s boasts about being, "ready for fall scale, electronic or nuclear warfare", we can see that they are attempting to build military achievements to settle the Kim Jong Eun succession structure.
Of course, Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) weapons are in a completely different category, being the most advanced form of electronic warfare, weapons which paralyze electrical and electronic appliances including power supply lines and transformers by radiating a strong electro-magnetic field. When a nuclear weapon is detonated, a strong EMP is also generated; however, excluding the use of nuclear weapons, North Korea won’t have reached that level.
Indeed, EMP is only at the developmental stage in the United States and Russia. Even assuming those experiments were completed; a long period of miniaturization and weaponization would still be needed.
Equally, if both South and North Korea were to work on developing such weapons, there would be no reason for us to linger behind North Korea. To sum up, weapons of the future are definitely a target we should be aware of, but there is no reason to be intimidated psychologically at this stage.
North Korea has long aimed to create anxiety about security in South Korea and split the public opinion. Whether by nuclear threat, GPS distortion or another type of electronic warfare, what is important is that the South Korean people unite to avoid getting entangled in their intentions. It is thus inappropriate for the media to exaggerate the risk or damage of North Korea’s efforts unduly.
After the Cheonan incident, South Korean society was severely split. At a time when we needed to condemn the provocateur and unite behind the nation, fully 1/4 of South Korean citizens did not trust the joint investigation led by the South Korean government. It was a scientific investigation from which we acquired clarity and critical evidence, but the South Korean people distrusted the result. The battle to apportion blame created a political circle, when it should have been characterized by solidarity.
North Korea, observing this scene, bombarded Yeonpyeong Island just 6 months later. However, right after the bombardment of Yeonpyeong Island, when the South Korean military conducted live fire artillery exercises with the nation behind it, the North Korean military kept silent. National solidarity, then, is a form of restraint which is better than any psychological warfare method or electro-magnetic weapon.