The Korea Herald


N. Korea could conduct localized provocation on border island: ex-Seoul official

By Yonhap

Published : Feb. 14, 2024 - 09:07

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Former South Korean National Security Adviser Kim Sung-han speaks during a forum hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington on Monday. (Yonhap) Former South Korean National Security Adviser Kim Sung-han speaks during a forum hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington on Monday. (Yonhap)

North Korea could undertake localized provocations this year, such as suddenly occupying a South Korean border island, a former senior Seoul official said Tuesday, amid concerns over the possibility of the North's saber-rattling ahead of the April parliamentary elections in the South.

Speaking at a forum, Kim Sung-han, who served as President Yoon Suk Yeol's national security adviser from 2022-2023, noted that Pyongyang might undertake "peacetime" provocations that would fall short of requiring a US military response.

During peacetime, South Korea is to lead military operations on the Korean Peninsula, while the United States is to command wartime operations due to its possession of wartime operational control over South Korean troops -- an authority that Seoul handed over during the 1950-53 Korean War.

Recounting his time in office, Kim said that Seoul's presidential office, defense ministry and Joint Chiefs of Staff have worked together to explore various scenarios of potential North Korean provocations.

"We made a bunch of scenarios of North Korean provocations ... including North Korea's sudden kind of absorption of one of the five islands in the West Sea, and many kinds of test launches of ballistic missiles and cruise missiles, etc.," he said during the forum hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"That belongs to kind of local -- not full-scale -- provocations that belong to kind of a peacetime operational control, which means only Korea will respond to them. ... That kind of scenario can be thought of as a future kind of local provocation that can be conducted by North Korea this year," he added.

Speculation has persisted that Pyongyang could engage in provocative acts ahead of the South Korean elections and the US presidential election in November in an apparent bid to foster political conditions more favorable to the recalcitrant regime.

"North Korea has its own preferred presidential candidate of the US In my personal view, North Korea is expected to show that the Biden administration's North Korea policy has been a total failure and try to contribute something to make its preferred presidential candidate win the elections by doing some provocative actions," he said.

Kim also commented on the process leading to the creation of the South Korea-US Nuclear Consultative Group, a key deterrence body launched in line with the Washington Declaration that Yoon and US President Joe Biden adopted during their summit last April.

The NCG came amid Seoul's stepped-up efforts to strengthen the credibility of America's "extended deterrence" commitment to using the full range of its military capabilities, including nuclear, to defend its ally.

"We considered several options, including the creation of the NCG and some others like the redeployment of tactical nuclear weapons back to the ROK," Kim said, referring to his discussions with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. ROK stands for South Korea's official name, the Republic of Korea.

"We reached the consensus that the NCG is a lot more useful because this is the way of eliminating kind of a longtime US legacy -- so-called nuclear mysticism," he added.

He described "nuclear mysticism" as the US' repeated statement on the protection of its allies and its call for the allies to trust it.

"I believe that kind of nuclear mysticism has contributed to the increase of skepticism on the part of South Korean people," he said. "So the NCG has been created to share the nuclear weapons operation mechanisms. This is big progress compared with before." (Yonhap)