Military learned nothing from Cheonan sinking
Recently, the sorry state of discipline within the North Korean military has been exposed through a string of defections by soldiers, including one who shot two superiors to death before crossing to the South on Oct. 6.
As it turned out, however, it was the South Korean military that had the more serious problems regarding discipline. It’s lamentable that our border guards were not aware of a North Korean soldier who travelled unchecked across the heavily fortified border to knock on the door of the barracks on the eastern frontline unit on Oct. 2.
More shocking is that the military’s initial report, that the soldier was spotted on a surveillance camera and taken into custody by our guards after he expressed the intention to defect to the South, turns out to be false. A special investigation team of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) confirmed the false report, saying that the soldiers on duty were unaware of the defector until he knocked on the door.
The incident shows how lax our border security is and how nonsensical the military’s reporting system is. The defector made his way through rows of electrified border fences that divide the two Koreas but none detected his movement because it took place at night.
It’s appalling to recall that the unit in question was completely defenseless. What if the defector were an agent armed with guns and grenades who sneaked into the barracks on orders from the North? We have strong suspicions that the soldiers were not on duty properly at the time and that the surveillance camera didn’t work.
Also, the unit was on heightened alert at the time following the reported sighting of a North Korean submarine in the East Sea earlier in the day, although this later turned out to be a misidentification.
JCS Chairman Gen. Jung Seung-jo is suspected of covering up the case, given that he kept it secret until an opposition lawmaker made inquiries about the incident during a parliamentary audit on Monday.
Asked why the military didn’t make public the soldier’s defection promptly, Gen. Chung said the military makes it a rule not to disclose the identity of defectors to protect their relatives. However, this appears to be a double standard, considering that the military promptly revealed the Oct. 6 shooting-defection case.
The JCS situation room also deserves blame for failing to make an accurate report to its chairman. Even after receiving a corrected report the next day that the defector was noticed after knocking on the door, officers at the situation room didn’t report this to Gen. Chung, who had to wrongly inform the lawmakers on Monday that the defector was spotted on a surveillance camera.
The latest incident shows that our military has learned nothing from the sinking of the Cheonan warship in 2010, when officers were also accused of lax security and poor discipline.
The Defense Ministry will have to conduct a wide ranging probe and get to the bottom of the incident ― why the border guards failed to spot the North Korean soldier. Of course, those involved in the fiasco, including the top military brass, should be strictly reprimanded.