Is South Korea Planning To Assassinate Kim Jong-un?

South Korea is in the process of creating an “assassination unit” as part of its military’s special forces, specifically trained to neutralize North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.

One day after North Korea conducted its sixth, and most powerful nuclear test this month, the South Korean defense minister, Song Young-moo, told lawmakers in Seoul that this group, which is being referred to as the “decapitation unit,” will be fully established before 2018 begins. To put it more bluntly, South Korea is forming a hit squad to eliminate North Korean leadership.

Its role would be to make Kim Jong-un fear for his life and deter him from deploying any more nuclear weapons. The military in South Korea has already gone to work, retooling helicopters and transport planes to get into North Korea at night so that the forces, known as the Spartan 3000, can carry out raids. The unit South Korea intends to deploy would consist of a brigade of 1,500 to 3,000 soldiers and would be an official body.

It is highly unusual for a government to be so forward with its strategy to assassinate a head of state, but South Korea is intent on keeping the Northerners on edge about the consequences of further developing its nuclear arsenal. At the same time, the South’s increasingly aggressive posture is meant to help push North Korea into accepting President Moon Jae-in’s offer of resolving the matter in a more civilized way with peace talks.

It is highly unusual for a government to be so forward with its strategy to assassinate a head of state, but South Korea is intent on keeping the Northerners on edge about the consequences of further developing its nuclear arsenal. At the same time, the South’s increasingly aggressive posture is meant to help push North Korea into accepting President Moon Jae-in’s offer of resolving the matter in a more civilized way with peace talks.

South Korea's President Moon Jae-in speaks to the press

South Korea’s president has always maintained a preference for a diplomatic solution, but his words appear to be falling on deaf ears, as North Korea has been more active in recent weeks with its missile program.

Kim Jong-un with supposedly a hydrogen bomb

“The best deterrence we can have, next to having our own nukes, is to make Kim Jong-un fear for his life,” said Shin Won-sik, a three-star general who was the South Korean military’s top operational strategist before he retired in 2015.

The tactics by the South led to a breakthrough last week when President Trump agreed to lift payload limits under a decades-old treaty. By doing this, he allowed South Korea to build more powerful ballistic missiles. He also stated on social media that the United States will aid South Korea and Japan as well in strengthening their military equipment.

It is worth noting that the majority of South Koreans, especially conservative politicians and commentators, wish the country would follow through and arm itself with nuclear weapons of its own. Mr. Moon, however, has repeatedly said he would rid the Korean Peninsula of such weapons.

In June, Mr. Trump reiterated Washington’s nuclear-umbrella doctrine, promising to protect the South with “[t]he full range of United States military capabilities, both conventional and nuclear.”

When talking to the press, though, Shin Won-sik insisted the new military tactics are simply meant to offset the North Korean threat.

“The idea is how we can instill the kind of fear a nuclear weapon would — but do so without a nuke. In the medieval system like North Korea, Kim Jong-un’s life is as valuable as hundreds of thousands of ordinary people whose lives would be threatened in a nuclear attack.”

As word of South Korea’s new assassination plans has spread, Mr. Kim has reportedly used the vehicles of his deputies as decoys to move from place to place, South Korean intelligence officials told lawmakers.

Soldiers in South Korea participating in exercise

South Korea has also put together a defensive strategy against their neighbor’s to the North that consists of three stages. This strategy would only be implemented should a renewed conflict on the Korean Peninsula become unavoidable.

The three stages to the South Korean defense strategy are known as the Kill Chain, the Korea Air and Missile Defense (KAMD) system, and the Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation (KMPR) plan.

The first stage involves destroying both North Korean nuclear and missile facilities before a nuclear weapon can be fired, then launching their own pre-emptive strikes. This will take place once an imminent strike is detected. Stage two revolves around intercepting incoming missiles from the North. Lastly, the third stage involves surgical strikes and special forces operations against North Korean leadership and critical strategic assets. It is here that the “decapitation squad” would play a very important role in the last stage of South Korea’s survival plan.

The need to detect an impending strike has become imperative. North Korea has made its nuclear bombs small and light enough — weighing under 500 kilograms — to be fitted onto its missiles, though it is still unclear whether they are fully weaponized, the South Korean defense minister, said last week.

North Korea keeps artillery and rocket tubes near the border, and military planners in South Korea believe that the North would be able to deliver up to 5,200 rounds on Seoul within the initial 10 minutes of war. In addition to that, the North also operates hundreds of missiles designed to hit South Korea and United States bases in Japan and beyond, their intention being to deter American intervention should war break out.

Detection of these missiles has also become harder.

North Korea hides missiles in its many underground tunnels. Transportation of these missiles has become easier, and the missiles themselves have become faster to launch thanks to a switch they made to solid fuel. In recent years, North Korea has also tested missiles from submarines, which are tougher to detect, making the potential consequences deadly.

South Korea missile experiment

A miscalculation on the part of the South could prompt an unwarranted pre-emptive strike, which could start a regional nuclear war. Speaking to a United States congressional hearing in June, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., addressed the potential disaster.

“We will see casualties, unlike anything we’ve seen in 60 or 70 years.”

As it stands, the South is just trying to get the attention of the North. Still, many say they doubt that the threat is enough to deter Mr. Kim. Only the prospect of nuclear retaliation will get his attention, they say.

“The balance of terror is the shortest cut to deterring war,” Yoon Sang-hyun, a conservative opposition lawmaker, told Parliament last Tuesday.

[Featured Image by Wong Maye-E/AP Images]