Dec. 26 last year was a shameful day for the South Korean military. As five drones from North Korea infiltrated into the South Korean airspace for many hours, it failed to shoot them down and only watched as one returned to the North. Military authorities should not only reflect on the disappointment of the people, but also focus on establishing measures to prevent a recurrence. The task should be shared by the government and at national levels. However, looking at the recent discussions in Seoul regarding drones, it instead shows a pattern of partisan strife, and it is painfully deplorable.
One of the most disturbing scenes is controversy over a "act of benefiting enemy." Rep. Kim Byung-joo, a former four-star general from the opposition Democratic Party of Korea, based on the map provided by the Joint Chiefs of Staff as a reference on Dec. 29, argued that a North Korean drone may have flown in the no-fly zone around the presidential office in Yongsan, central Seoul. The JCS strongly denied the allegation, while a spokesperson for the Ministry of National Defense retaliated with accusations against Kim of an "act of transfer." A member of the ruling People’s Power Party used more incendiary language, saying Kim's claim shows he had internal communication with North Korea.
I cannot help but feel miserable in that the situation in which a South Korean Reserve Army four-star general is attacked for unclear transfer activities and internal communication with the North is an insult to the South Korean Army. The expressions are also lamentable in that they are key elements of "colorism" or "red frames" that trigger political strife. More shockingly, the military confessed a few days later that it confirmed that the drone flew in the no-fly zone. As serious errors have been recognized, the controversy should have turned to seeking measures to prevent a recurrence. On the contrary, the mudslinging among political circles has intensified.
The partisan fight began from the day the drone incursion issue took place.
President Yoon Suk Yeol strongly rebuked the military's failure to shoot down the drone, but blamed the failure on the previous government. In response, the opposition party strongly protested, saying Yoon ignored the facts about what the former government did and unfairly transferred the blame. Defining the incident as a security disaster, the Democratic Party launched a massive offensive against the current government, labeling it an incompetent regime.
The controversy was heated up with former President Moon Jae-in’s rebuttal on Jan. 2.
Moon stressed to Democratic Party politicians who visited his home for New Year's greetings that he had established systems to respond to the North Korean drones, including the local air defense radar, after he took power in 2017. He pointed out that the government could detect and track the drones this time also due to the system created at that time.
Moon's remarks sharply refuted Yoon’s claim that Moon's administration had done nothing.
Countering the refutation, the ruling party was even more vehement. A ministry official rebutted that the drone response system was the result of being prepared and that it had progressed sequentially through many governments in the past, meaning Moon's claims had been exaggerated. Shockingly, Yoon's remark that Moon did nothing was virtually denied due to his own official’s explanation. This is a clear example that if you are immersed in a partisan fight, there is no place for consistency or logic.
It was North Korea that sent drones into South Korean airspace. However, it is not easy to hear voices condemning or countering the North in South Korean politics.
Instead, brutal political remarks mobilized to humiliate political opponents are rampant. In this situation, it cannot come up with measures to prevent a recurrence, and even if they do, they cannot be adopted.
If you look at it from the North's side, they might be glad that at least one of the five drones came back across the border. Moreover, as Korean society is miserably divided and the ruling and opposition parties are destroying national strength by hurling accusations at each other, it might be clear that the North has massive reason for celebration. Even though North Korea violated our airspace, our politicians are immersed in partisan battles, which is truly the act of transfer.
Wang Son-taek is a director for the Global Policy Center at Han Pyeong Peace Institute. The view expressed here are his own. -- Ed.