South Korea To Increase Military Spending And To Set Up A Military Unit Specializing In Drones

On December 28th, South Korea announced its plans to spend over 560 billion wons, approximately $441 million dollars, to improving its defence against drones. Just a few days earlier on December 26th, North Korean drones had crossed into Seoul’s air space. Analysts describe the drones as being too primitive to conduct full reconnaissance missions, according to Al Jazeera, but they could carry a weapon or disrupt aviation activity. 

South Korea’s military defence was caught off guard by the incident. According to Reuters, five North Korean drones crossed into South Korea air space, which prompted their air defence to try to shoot the drones down with fighter jets and helicopters. The attempt lasted several hours as the drones flew over South Korean cities, but troops were unable to bring down any of the drones before they disappeared from radar. South Korea responded to the provocation by sending drones to North Korea for three hours. 

Because of North Korea’s border intrusion, South Korea’s defence ministry aims to fast track the setting up of a military unit specializing in drones. South Korea is also planning to increase its military spending with an average annual increase of 6.8 percent totaling $261 billion dollars until 2027. Reuters reports that South Korea’s President Yoon Suk-yeol aims to speed up a drone unit that performs multi-purpose missions, including surveillance, reconnaissance, and electronic warfare. 

South Korea’s military has apologized for its failure to shoot down the drones, which, according to the army, were too small. According to Reuters, military also said it could not attack the drones because of concerns over civilian safety, and pledged to improve anti-drone capabilities including strike assets, jamming and radar technology and regular air defence drills. 

According to Channel News Asia, South Korea’s President Yoon has heavily criticized the military’s response in the incident. According to Reuters President Yoon said in a cabinet meeting that “the incident showed a substantial lack of our military’s preparedness and training for the past several years, and clearly confirmed the need for more intense readiness and training.” He also emphasized that South Korea must not hesitate to retaliate against any provocation by North Korea despite its nuclear capacity. Al Jazeera reported after the incident, defence minister Lee Jong-sup told the parliament of South Korea that Yoon had ordered him to send drones into North Korea in response to any incursion “even if that means risking escalation.” 

North Korea’s aggression is the cause of South Korea’s military buildup and it is quite clear that South Korea has to develop its defence against drone attacks from its neighbour. South Korea has sought peaceful solutions in the conflict, yet, faced with aggression, a nation should be able to defend its borders. However, it is important that South Korea restrains its military from being provoked into further escalation. 

North and South Korea have been in war since their war ended in 1953 in armistice instead of a peace treaty. The recent incident was North Korea’s first airspace intrusion since the 2018 inter-Korean military agreement which South Korea’s President Yoon has now threatened to end.  

Al Jazeera and BBC report rising tension between the North and South since last year. In September last year North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un declared that his country had become a nuclear power. According to BBC, North Korea has been actively developing its weapons with numerous missile tests and in fact North Korea fired more missiles in 2022 than in any other year. President Yoon’s conservative government that took over last May has promised to adopt a tougher line with North Korea which can, according to Chad O’Carroll, CEO of Korea Risk Group, lead to direct confrontation between the two Koreas. 

There is no sign of an end to the tense situation in the Korean Peninsula. On January 2nd, North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un called for an exponential increase in its nuclear weapons arsenal. Peaceful, political dialogue between the two countries should continue to take place yet the current provocation does not support bringing Koreas back to the negotiating table any time soon.