South Korea Resumes Loudspeaker Broadcasts Amid Rising Tensions with North Korea

On June 9, South Korea announced that it would restart broadcasting via loudspeakers at the North Korean border, an activity that had been dormant for six years. This decision comes in response to North Korea’s recent actions of launching hundreds of balloons filled with trash into South Korea, as reported by Reuters. These speakers are large and high-powered, being able to reach more than 12 miles into North Korea. Former South Korean President Park Geun-hye commented on the broadcasts in 2016, and said they were “the most effective form of psychological warfare” and they encouraged North Korean defectors. Named the “Voice of Freedom” by South Korea, the broadcasts have covered a variety of topics including the history of South Korea’s economic success and popular K-pop music. It is unclear what was played during this resumption. Historically, North Korea has responded to these broadcasts with weapon testing. This led to then-South Korean President Moon Jae agreeing to stop the broadcasts in 2018. 

Immediately after South Korea resumed the broadcasts, North Korea sent another wave of balloons filled with trash across the border. Consequently, Kim Yo Jong, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister warned Seoul, calling the South Korean government “to immediately cease its dangerous activities that would further provoke a crisis of confrontation” according to Deutsche Welle. She commented further saying that if the broadcasts continued, “South Korea would witness an unspecified ‘new response’ from the North” according to Associated Press (AP). Lee Sung Joon, spokesperson of South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff responded, saying that they do not think North Korea will provoke them that easily. According to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “additional broadcasts were ‘entirely dependent on North Korea’s behavior’” and broadcasts were not continued into the next day, says AP. 

While the resumption of loudspeaker broadcasts by South Korea might be seen as a strong stance against North Korean provocations, it raises questions about the effectiveness and ethics of such actions. Broadcasting messages across the border has been named as a form of psychological warfare, which could potentially escalate tensions rather than foster peace. Though North Korea is clearly a difficult neighbor, simplistic and aggressive approaches will only lead to a cycle of retaliation and conflict. Thus, while the broadcasts may serve immediate strategic purposes, they do not contribute to the sustainable peace that is needed on the Korean peninsula. 

Annexed by Japan in the early 1900s, Korea suffered a period of harsh colonial rule until its liberation following Japan’s defeat in World War II in 1945. The peninsula was then divided into the Soviet controlled north and United States controlled south. Two separate states were established in 1948, the communist Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) under Kim Il-sung and the capitalist Republic of Korea (South Korea) under Syngman Rhee. Tensions between the two sides culminated in the Korean War which lasted from 1950-1953, and ended in an armistice and a divided peninsula. This situation persists into this day with North and South Korea experiencing a cyclical pattern of confrontation and engagement. These problems are heavily influenced by internal politics, leadership changes, and the international geopolitical environment. In more recent times, tensions have been especially on the rise following South Korea’s presidential election in 2022. Right-wing leader Yoon Suk Yeol was elected, known for his hardline policy on North Korea. In January 2024, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared the North would abandon any goals of a peaceful unification with the South and the South would become rewritten in its constitution as a permanent enemy. 

The resumption of loudspeaker broadcasts marks a significant moment in the ongoing conflict between North and South Korea. While it demonstrates South Korea’s resolve in the face of provocations, it also risks escalating tensions further. If such tactics continue, they could lead to increased hostilities and a deeper divide on the peninsula. Sustainable peace requires more than psychological warfare and retaliatory actions. It requires a commitment to long-term strategies that address the underlying issues, which the international community must also play a role in facilitating.