Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin met with top military commanders at the Joint Chiefs of Staff headquarters on Monday to discuss what to do about North Korean drones. The meeting came 15 days after a North Korean unmanned aerial vehicle was discovered by a hiker on a mountain in Paju north of Seoul. At that time, officers refused to believe that the UAV came from North Korea citing lack of evidence.
They were nonchalant even after aerial surveillance photos of Cheong Wa Dae, including President Park Geun-hye's office, were discovered in a camera mounted on the drone.
Now its attitude has swerved 180 degrees. Kim said at the meeting that such drones are another threat the North poses on the South as they "can be developed to be used for secret infiltration and terrorism purposes in the future." He added, "We should strengthen our readiness to monitor, detect, identify and strike [those drones] with existing military assets along the border."
He also called for increased efforts to engage civilians in cooperation.
Yet it has been two years since North Korea openly announced its intention to use UAVs against South Korea. The North unveiled attack drones at a military parade in April 2012 and leader Kim Jong-un made four separate visits over the past year to military bases that deploy drones.
During one such visit in March this year, an officer vowed to attack targets in South Korea and the U.S. with UAVs carrying small nuclear bombs. North Korea's Uriminzokkiri website even posted a warning last May of a possible drone attack against Cheong Wa Dae.
Yet South Korea's top brass blithely ignored these clear signs of an imminent provocation, just as they did back in 2010 before the sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan. The military here suffers from a chronic problem of taking action only after a major North Korean provocation.
President Park Geun-hye in a meeting with top officials at Cheong Wa Dae on Monday said the failure of the military to detect North Korean UAVs flying over South Korean skies shows "problems in our defense and surveillance system." Park urged the military to be on the alert for increasing North Korean surveillance.
Another North Korean UAV discovered in Samcheok, Gangwon Province had the number 35 written on it. This is believed to be the serial number, which would lead to the conclusion that scores of these drones are whizzing around over our heads.
Seoul must waste no time in coming up with necessary defenses, while at the same time looking into why the military was once again unable to detect this threat. It must stop making the same mistakes.