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South Korea’s military was on high alert last week after five North Korean drones crossed into its airspace, with one aircraft crashing. The drone measured under 2 meters long. Four drones flew around Ganghwa island and one flew over the capital Seoul’s northern airspace. This exercise was a violation of air space.

North Korea finds happiness in provocating South Korea by sending these drones across the border. This is done to map information on the defence layout of the opponent’s territory. These drones are small and stealthy and hence a challenge to mitigate. One of the crashed drones shown in the photo below contains sensors, cameras and spaces for chemical/ biological weapon reserves.

north korea
PC: Time

The Objective of the North Korean Provocation

According to South Korean President Yoon Seok-Yeol, the North’s aim with this type of provocation is to “expose the weaknesses and exacerbate conflicts within the South Korean society”. President Yoon’s strategy of responding immediately to provocations is also increasing the tensions in the area. Moreover, the Pyongyang regime always aims to show the weakness of certain aspects of the southern arsenal. 

Historically, North Korean provocations have always been justified by the argument of the “vitality” of the regime against the United States. This rather classic argument is also brandished against the South. Since President Yoon’s election, Korea’s foreign policy has changed. South Korea’s desire to get closer to Japan, and to cooperate militarily has threatened the interests of North Korea, being aligned with big brother China.

South Korea’s strategy of taking a firm position of rapid response to provocations from the North as well as providing development support is an audacious plan to help the North Korean economy against denuclearization and is aimed at bending the North Korean strategy.

North Korea’s medical support system is in crisis. One of Kim Jong-Un’s mentors who died during the recent epidemic was a key advisor to his regime. To cover the gaps in medical, food supplies and agriculture, North Korea implements the policy of massive army funding to “deter” enemies. Today what protects North Korea is its powerful ally China, which benefits from this partnership for exchanges of medicines against tobacco and a few raw materials.

A New Era in North Korean Military Development 

Not disclosing one’s cards to the enemy is one of the basic principles of the art of war and a lesson learned by the South Korean government. Indeed, on December 19, North Korea, through its central press agency, announced the successful launch of a ‘satellite’. An announcement like this is obviously unprecedented. But for now, the South Korean government is sticking with its version of a ‘ballistic missile’. North Korea fired this missile fired from the Sohae launch site in North Pyongyang Province. This place is one of the strategic launching points for North Korean ballistic missiles. It is undeniable that the regime seeks to embark on its space conquest for data and information gathering. In a few words, we can say that with the help of its allies, Pyongyang launched test satellites. At the moment Seoul is studying North Korean intent. Washington and Tokyo are analysing the images and data from the North Korean central agency. 

The Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea is indeed entering a space age. In the coming weeks, authorities in Seoul and its allies will redefine the strategies to face this new challenge. Pyongyang can launch satellites to prove its capabilities. One can read the advancement of the Chinese with its space station along with the will of Pyongyang to make satellites. This may be an attempt by non-Western countries to have true spatial autonomy. It also signifies their desire to do autonomous intelligence and provide technical support for internet connectivity. The world knows about Pyongyang’s “big step” in launching potential satellites in the future. This initiative could be to counter the advancement of Seoul into a space foray. 

We are entering an era where North Korea dare to compete with the South in the space domain apart from the military one. This development will further weaken the economy of the north. Its reapproach to China may allow North Korea to make up for this loss. In addition, large networks such as ‘Office 39’ can accumulate considerable funding and resources for the regime. In the military research and development policy, North Korea is also developing drone technology. They are developing modern aeronautical arsenals which can work with drones. This can be a part of an international military development strategy of non-Western countries allied with Russia.

Re-alignment of nations post the Cold War era, the nexus of China, Russia, and North Korea’s developing arsenal could become a formidable challenge to the western world in near future. What we know about North Korea’s arsenal is pretty hazy. Pyongyang is an expert at scrambling data. The most recent case is the flu epidemic in Korea (covid pandemic). The numbers of deaths revealed are not reliable and proven. But this is not exclusive to North Korea. from 1970 to 1990, the regime was able to hide its nuclear development infrastructures. Moreover, the information we have on the missile program of North Korea is not sufficient. We can have some by analyzing the images disclosed by the Korean Central News Agency (KNCA) of North Korea. A drone received in South Korea across the border as shown in the picture above would be a great source of information to analyse the capabilities of civil and military infrastructure of strategic importance under North Korea. These drones can be a real threat if they carry chemical and bacteriological weapons. Despite vague and fuzzy reports, we don’t know much about such weapons development in North Korea. (

North Korea is multiplying its sources of deterrence into nuclear, bacteriological, and chemical domains. President Yoon Seok-Yeol’s strategy of direct response may lead to a new escalation of the inter-Korean conflict. Both countries have increased their military development and changed their doctrines for defence. This is to show who is the most powerful and dissuasive. The ideology of the North specifies that the regime is against the US and not against its blood brothers down south. Reunification is a rope the regime can play to obtain favours and money from the South. This is in addition to the Chinese and Russian support as well as funding. For the time being, allow Pyongyang to continue its side-by-side mode of financing the army as well as its population. Drone provocation is an attempt to intimidate the world.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views of the Government of India and Defence Research and Studies

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By William Favre

William Favre is a researcher in international relations of Asia with a focus on Korean studies, graduated from Seoul National University