The North has continued to display its asymmetrical capabilities in recent years: It fired a long-range missile in April 2009, conducted a second nuclear test that May, launched “distributed denial-of-service” cyber attacks in July, torpedoed the Cheonan in March 2010 and shelled Yeonpyeong Island with coastal artillery in November.
“Due to serious economic conditions, the North cannot compete with the South with its symmetrical weapons. Thus, it might have thought that asymmetrical strategies and capabilities are the only means to rely on,” said Kwon Tai-young, senior advisor at Korea Research Institute for Strategy.
“The possibility of the North provoking with asymmetrical weapons is not low as it seeks to bring its people together and attract attention from other countries to obtain assistance while grappling with difficulty in solidifying the hereditary power succession process, economic travails and the possibility of instability.”
Experts say that the South can neutralize asymmetrical threats with “reverse asymmetrical strategies” such as mobilizing precision-guided weapons and high-tech intelligence, reconnaissance devices.
“As the North’s asymmetrical capabilities have their own weaknesses, the South can focus on attacking the weak points while minimizing its vulnerability to its asymmetrical threats,” said Kim of Hannam University.Jointness
One of the major problems revealed after the Cheonan incident was associated with interoperability, or “jointness.”
Critics have said that jointness has been marred by Army officers dominating key decision-making posts, particularly at the Joint Chiefs of Staff, saying that the voices of the Navy and Air Force have not been sufficiently reflected in joint military operations.
The Army-dominated JCS might have had difficulty in leading naval operations to deal with the sinking of the Cheonan, they said.
“The JCS should understand capabilities of each armed service and know which one should lead what kind of battle situations. But except for one Air Force general, all of the JCS chairmen were from the Army and most of the top posts are filled with Army officers. In fact, the JCS has been another Army institution,” Kim said.
In efforts to address such problems, the military has decided to maintain the ratio of Army, Navy and Air Force officers at the key JCS posts at 2:1:1. But what matters is a determination to maintain this ratio, as the military has not abided by the non-binding rule.
“Without a balanced approach to treat the three military wings, we cannot achieve genuine jointness. Without stubbornly sticking to the pursuit of their own interests, all military branches should contribute to enhancing jointness,” Kim said.
As part of measures to enhance interoperability, the military also plans to revamp the top command structure for the first time in some 20 years.
Under the plan, the JCS chief will be given limited authority to manage military personnel and supplies in addition to his existing authority to lead military operations, so as to ensure rapid, effective operations.
Chiefs of the three armed services will also have partial authority to lead military operations in areas of their specialty so that they can respond to battle situations in a timely manner.
Seoul has adopted a “proactive” deterrence strategy to replace the previous passive, defense-oriented strategy that was found to be ineffective in the wake of the two deadly attacks last year. The new strategy hinted at the possibility that the South could use a preemptive strike to deter North Korean aggression.
Experts largely concur that Seoul should adopt a more aggressive strategy to stop the North from even thinking of making additional provocations.
“Citizens think we should not allow any more North Korean provocations to occur. There is only a deterrence strategy so as to prevent provocations,” Rhee said.
“A preemptive attack is different from a preventive attack ― launched to eliminate ‘vague’ threats. There is no problem at all (with the preemptive concept), diplomatically as well as in terms of international law.”
But others expressed concerns that a strategy which includes the option of a preemptive strike may face controversy as it could further aggravate inter-Korean ties, spark ideological disputes here and invite international criticism.
“Customary international law permits the use of the preemptive strikes as a self-defense measure when signs of a threat are obvious and the situation is urgent. But the U.N. convention regards it as a virtual taboo,” said Kwon.
“When the North threatens us with nuclear missiles, it would be unavoidable for us to launch a preemptive strike. But when the North provokes with conventional weapons, it would be desirable not to use the preemptive option.”
By Song Sang-ho (email@example.com