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Seoul seeks to complement N.K. contingency measures

Seoul is considering complementing its measures for handling contingencies in North Korea as security concerns are increasing following the execution of Jang Song-thaek, the once-powerful uncle of the dynastic ruler Kim Jong-un.

In particular, the government is reportedly seeking to improve Conceptual Plan 5029 ― a set of joint military steps by South Korea and the U.S. to cope with potential instability in the North, including a sudden regime collapse.

“The military is in the process of complementing its measures to respond to various contingency scenarios that could come in the wake of Jang’s downfall,” a senior Seoul official who declined to be named told the media.

Through Kim’s “reign of terror,” the ruler appears to have further solidified his power in the ruling Worker’s Party, military and government organs. But experts said Seoul should have detailed operational contingency plans.

The brutal measures of the North Korean ruler, including the recent executions of confidants including his uncle, have further raised security concerns, underscoring Seoul’s need for more concrete plans for any instability in the North.

CONPLAN 5029 is said to deal with six contingency scenarios: a coup followed by a civil war; a popular uprising against Kim’s iron-fisted rule; the obtaining of weapons of mass destruction by rebel forces and their outflow to other countries; massive waves of North Korean refugees; large-scale natural disasters; and kidnappings of South Koreans staying in the North.

Conservatives here have long argued that the conceptual plan should be fleshed out into an operational plan to better deal with unexpected contingencies in North Korean. But Seoul has been reluctant to do so as this could provoke the communist regime, which worries that the allies are attempted to encroach upon its sovereignty and eventually invade it.

A Seoul official said that the government has not detected any signs of instability yet.

“We don’t believe that we are at a stage where we need to covert the conceptual plan into an operational one,” said the official.

Analysts said that despite growing concerns over the unpredictable leadership in Pyongyang, the possibility of a sudden regime collapse or any other form of instability is low at the moment.

“We have long talked about a sudden regime collapse in the North, perhaps since the mid-1990s (when the North suffered from a severe famine), and in 2008 as well when Kim Jong-il suffered a stroke. But the regime still remains stronger and more durable than (we) thought,” said Kim Yeoul-soo, a security expert at Sungshin Women’s University.

“Any popular uprising or revolt is also, I believe, highly unlikely for now, as people (in North Korea) don’t understand such concepts as democracy, freedom and human rights, with the state tightly monitoring each and every one of them.”

But to prepare for possible provocations which the North could resort to in order to strengthen public unity, the South Korean military has maintained a robust readiness posture.

Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin has ordered senior military officers to refrain from going drinking or playing golf. The ministry has also convened a special taskforce meeting to stay updated on North Korean military movements.

By Song Sang-ho (