This and other scenarios may not be as remote as once thought
By Lee Tae-hoon, Chung Min-uck
What if Japan’s “samurai warriors” tried to land on Dokdo?
Japanese ultra right-wing nationalists have already landed on internationally disputed islands.
At a time when Tokyo is trying to dispute Seoul’s sovereignty over Dokdo, the possibility can’t be ruled out.
As things stand now, however, Korea has advantages to prevent such an attempt but complacency is the last thing that it can afford.
Besides, Japan’s tradition of “Kamikaze” suicide pilots during World War II and its assassins’ murder of Queen Min of the Joseon Kingdom calls for a full alert to such a contingency.
Many experts claim that Korea’s rocky islets in the East Sea are an impenetrable fortress capable of resisting any unsolicited intruder with the Coast Guard and Armed Forces providing around-the-clock surveillance.
However, they stress the need to prepare for the worst-case scenario of an armed clash.
Scenario 1: Disguised as tourists
One of the most plausible scenarios for an illegal entry is Japanese extremist activists or politicians setting foot on Dokdo by disguising themselves as tourists in an attempt to stage an offensive rally without permission.
In fact, legitimate foreign visitors, including Japanese, are allowed to tour Dokdo by simply taking a ferry from Ulleung Island, which is located just 90 kilometers from the scenic islets.
Ulleung islanders say those affiliated with extremist civic groups in Japan can be banned from traveling to Dokdo under an ordinance by Ulleung County, but the screening process is not rigid.
Navy officials, however, claim that it is unlikely that far-right Japanese activists or politicians would secretly land on Dokdo to hold a rally there in protest of Korea’s sovereignty of the rocky outcrops.
“Activists belong to Japan’s right-wing groups will not stealthy land on Dokdo as what they want is to make it disputed territory,” a Navy spokesman said asking for anonymity.
He noted that it was more likely they would stage rallies in Japan to criticize Korea’s control of Dokdo to draw media attention before announcing a planned visit to the East Sea islets.
If so they will be treated no different to three hardline Japanese lawmakers who were sent back home upon their arrival at a Korean airport for having openly insisted on visiting Dokdo to protest Korea’s sovereignty.
Scenario 2: Helicopter access
Another conceivable scenario is an attempt to land on Dokdo using a helicopter.
A helipad, located at the rocky top, is capable of accommodating a large-size helicopter.
Nevertheless, Lee Kwang-sub, the senior inspector of Dokdo Police Guard, claims that it is impossible for any unauthorized helicopter to land on the pad.
“There are a set of measures in place to reject any unsolicited landing on the helipad,” he said.
A senior Marine official, who has taken part in Dokdo landing drills, concurred with him, saying placing a tripod or any large obstacle on the helipad can deter an illegal landing by a helicopter.
“Japanese may hover around the islets, but will never succeed in landing because a coast guard unit is stationed and reinforcements will arrive immediately,” he said.
“If Japan attempts to illegally occupy Dokdo, a company of the Marines will be dispatched to the islets by UH-60 Black Hawk and CH-47 Chinook helicopters.”
However, Shin In-kyun, head of the defense think tank, Korea Defense Network (KDN), expressed concerns over the possibility of Japan mobilization of an attack helicopter.
“If Japan sends one of its AH-64 Apache helicopters, the entire coast guard unit will be annihilated, allowing Japanese troops to seize Dokdo,” he said.
He noted that Korea does not have a helicopter that is a match to the Apache helicopter and all of its military choppers, such as AH1S Cobras, are incapable of carrying out a mission on Dokdo due to limited flight range and other shortcomings.
Korea plans to sign a deal to purchase 36 attack helicopters, possibly the latest version of the Apache attack helicopter from Boeing, by the end of the year with the aim of deploying them from 2015.
Scenario 3: Armed attack
Shin argues that the worst case scenario would be a clash between a patrol vessel of the Korean Coast Guard and a ship of Japanese protesters who have illegally crossed the maritime border.
“We cannot rule out the possibility that rightwing groups in Japan intentionally attempt to provoke a military conflict,” he said.
He noted that a reckless attempt to land on Dokdo may trigger an armed conflict.
He said the civilian vessel could be damaged or even sunk if a Coast Guard 3,000-ton patrol vessel blocks it.
“Even when the tides are low, it is difficult for a 3,000-ton ship to block a small vessel without inflicting damage,” he said.
“The Japanese Coast Guard, which also operates a 3,000-ton patrol vessel near Dokdo, may interpret the sinking of a right-wing group’s ship as an armed clash.”
He said the patrol vessels of the two countries, both equipped with 40-mm guns, can inflict serious damage on each other and may lead to a bigger armed conflict.
“Unlike warships, patrol ships of the Coast Guard cannot withstand heavy attacks,” he said.
Shin said the destruction of patrol ships may result in a naval war between the two neighboring countries, in which politicians find little room to make compromise over territorial issues.
He said both the people in Korea and Japan may support the idea of their military forces waging a fierce battle in the East Sea on the assumption that such an armed conflict would not escalate to a full-scale war.
“If the battle takes place far away from the mainland, people do not consider it as a serious security threat,” he said.
“The two countries may wage a naval war on a tacit agreement to confine the armed conflict to the territorial issue of Dokdo.”
사무라이 정신으로 무장한 일본의 우익 세력들이 독도에 불법상륙작전을 펼친다면 어떻게 될까?
전문가들에 의하면 대한민국 해경이 지키고 있는 독도는 사실상 요새에 가까워 어떠한 상륙작전도 성공할 가능성이 희박하다.
하지만 한국 관광객으로 가장해 침투해 독도를 방문하는 것은 그리 어려운 일이 아니다.
조례상으로 일본 우익 시민단체들의 입도가 제한되어 있기는 하지만 흑심을 품고 독도에 입도하는 일본인들을 모두 걸러내기는 사실상 불가능하기 때문이다.
단, 일본 우익들은 독도에 단순히 입도하는 것이 목적이 아니라 분쟁화를 노리는 것이기 때문에 독도를 은밀히 관광하고 돌아가는 것은 이들의 궁극적인 목적과는 거리가 있을 것이다.
독도에 헬기장이 있어 헬기를 이용해서도 무단침입을 시도할 수 있지만 해경이 24시간 경계를 서고 있기에 무단 착륙은 사실상 불가능하다.
독도 방어 훈련에 참여했던 한 해병대 관계자에 의하면 헬기장에 삼각대나 장애물 하나만 설치하더라도 헬기는 착륙할 수 없다고 한다.
물론, 일본 자위대가 아파치 헬기를 동원하면 상황은 반전이 된다.
신인균 자주국방네트워크 대표는 아파치 한대면 한국 해경은 사실상 모두 전멸할 위기에 처한다고 한다.
우리군의 경우 코브라등을 운영하고 있지만 항속거리가 짧고, 바다에서 작전을 하기에 제약이 있을 뿐 아니라 아파치의 적수가 못되기 때문이다.
그럼, 최악의 시나리오는 무엇일까?
신 대표는 일본 우익세력이 우발을 가장한 충돌을 뽑았다.
해경의 3천 톤급 경비함이 일본 우익의 무모한 침투를 막다가 우익들의 선박이 파손이 되거나 침몰하게 되면 일본 해상청 순시선이 이를 무력도발로 간주해 서로 교전이 생길 수 있기 때문이다.
신 대표에 의하면 우리 해경과 마찬가지로 일본 순시선도 3천 톤급이며 40mm포를 탐재하고 있어, 서로 맞붙는 다면 둘 다 큰 타격을 입게 된다.
경비함의 경우 군함과 달리 외부공격에 취약하기 때문이다.
신대표는 이런 상황이 생긴다면 양국의 해군이 나서지 않을 수 없게 될 상황이 올지 모른다고 전망했다.