North Koreas shelling of Yeonpyeong Island has significantly raised national security awareness and vigilance in South Korea, in stark contrast to what happened in the wake of the sinking of the South Korean naval warship Cheonan in March. Those who refused to believe the North sank the vessel threw South Koreans into confusion by distorting the truth. In this sense, experts say the Norths latest provocation can benefit the South over the long term by enhancing national security preparedness.
In the 10 days after the attack, however, the South Korean presidential office, military and intelligence agency have failed to live up to their peoples expectations, fueling public anxiety. Those responsible for national security are incapable of assuring the people of their safety. Worse, lawmakers, whose duty is to fix loopholes in the national security posture through review by standing committee activities or parliamentary inspection of the government, are hindering the administrations handling of the situation by reprimanding the defense minister. If the National Assembly had faithfully deliberated the appropriateness of the defense budget or fund allocation for armament buildup, national security would not be in such a miserable situation.
The attack on Yeonpyeong showed the Souths chronic security problems. From intelligence collection on provocation signs and the judgment and utilization of intelligence to the responses of frontline military bases, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a presidential security adviser and the presidents North Korea strategies, nothing got to the point.
The initial response of the presidential office was Escalation into war must be avoided, causing confusion in military operations and resulting in the resignation of the defense minister under pressure. This exposed mutual mistrust between the president and the military. President Lee Myung-baks distrust in the military can be seen in his speeches to mark the South Korean Armys recapture of Seoul on Sept. 28 and Armed Forces Day on Oct. 1. He urged the military to be worthy of its name, and many active soldiers and reserve officers showed a sensitive response to this comment. They said President Lee showed his deep distrust of the military by criticizing the armed forces in front of representatives from countries that sent soldiers to help South Korea in the Korean War and foreign diplomats based in Seoul.
South Korean National Intelligence Service Director Won Sei-hoon said at the National Assembly that signs of the provocation were detected through communication interception in August. This comment has drawn criticism. It is unclear how the intelligence agency judged intelligence, how it shared intelligence with the presidential office and the military, and what countermeasures it asked for. If the agency did not take the intelligence seriously at the time, Won should explain why he conveyed the intelligence at the National Assembly. In other words, he should not have released the information.
As was the case after the Cheonan sinking, meetings of the president and national security-related ministers at the underground bunker of the presidential office were broadcast in real time, as was the scene at Yeonpyeong after the attack. This helped the North collect information for free. The identification of the points of impact of North Korean rockets will prove valuable for Pyongyang to launch another provocation. This is the sorry state of national security preparedness for South Korea, which is supposed to be in a quasi-state of war.
When comparing the two Koreas, the South has double the population, 18 times the per capita income, 200 times the trade volume and 340 times the export volume. South Koreans are naturally hurt to see that their country, whose economy is 15th in the world, is at a loss over what to do in the face of the Norths provocations. The people feel angry since they have heard of their government saying their military capability surpasses that of the North in military arms and performance. Now is the time for President Lee to risk his administrations fate to assure the people by strengthening the national security posture of the military, presidential office and intelligence agency.