Fri. Jun 14th, 2024

Even experienced analysts were surprised: why does North Korea launch balloons with garbage

Natasha Kumar By Natasha Kumar Jun4,2024

Surprised Even Experienced Analysts: Why North Korea Launches Garbage Balloons

Kim Yo-Jong, the North Korean leader's influential sister, said South Koreans should view the dirt-filled balloons as “heartfelt gifts to the goblins of liberal democracy”.

North Korea recently surprised even seasoned analysts by launching balloons filled with garbage and manure over South Korean territory, causing alarm and serious security concerns. The unusual tactic was in response to South Korean activists launching propaganda leaflets into North Korea, which Pyongyang views as a threat. North Korea's Kim Yo Jong has warned of tougher measures if South Korea continues its leaflet campaigns.

Focus translated article by Bruce Klingner on why North Korea started launching “dirty” balloons into South Korea.

Just when seasoned experts on North Korea thought they had seen everything, Pyongyang managed to surprise them.

It would seem that the world is already used to North Korea's increasing nuclear and missile threats and its large-scale violations in the field of human rights. Launches of new, more powerful ICBMs no longer deserve coverage in the American media. But Pyongyang invented a new way to draw attention to itself and demonstrate its contempt for South Korea – send garbage and manure on flights in balloons. In other words, the North Koreans invented flying feces.

On May 29, some South Koreans were woken up by emergency text messages with “airstrike advance warning” due to unidentified objects flying over the demilitarized zone. The South Korean military later said it had found 260 North Korean balloons that had crashed across the country, including in Seoul and a province in the southeast. The balloons had plastic bottles, batteries, shoe parts… and excrement.

Pyongyang's latest antics are even more petty and contemptuous than usual. For example, Kim Yo-jong, the powerful sister of the North Korean leader, said that South Koreans should view the dirt-filled balls as “heartfelt gifts to the goblins of liberal democracy”. questions South Korean citizens have reason to fear that the flight of balloons over South Korea's territory demonstrates its vulnerability to North Korean attacks, should such balloons be equipped with biological or chemical warfare agents, which the North regime has in abundance.

As Kim's bellicose statement makes clear, Pyongyang launched its balloons to force Seoul to stop South Korean human rights activists using balloons to send propaganda leaflets, money, Bibles and computer flash drives to the North.

Pyongyang perceives any outside information seeping into the hermetically sealed Hermit Kingdom as a direct threat to regime stability and national security. Kim lashed out at South Korea's “clan scoundrels,” seeing their criticism of the “freedom of expression of the North Korean people” as a violation of international law when Seoul launched its “pathetic balloons filled with postcards” toward the North.

Having compared the launches of balloons between the two Koreas, Kim Yo-jong has already called on South Korea to prevent future balloon flights to the North, otherwise Pyongyang will send “ten times more garbage than is flying in our direction” in response. In 2020, Kim demanded that then-President Moon Jae-in ban South Korean groups from sending balloons to the North.

Moon then quickly agreed, declaring South Korean propaganda leaflets “harmful to national security” and ordering police to prevent further balloon flights , and his political party passed a law on “prevention” of launching leaflets. Last year, the Constitutional Court of South Korea declared this law an unconstitutional restriction of freedom of speech.

Pyongyang has previously vowed to deliver “devastating physical strikes of increased intensity” if the balloons continue heading for the North, and has warned that its artillery units will fire on areas from which the balloons are launched. In 2014, North Korea opened fire on balloons flying toward its territory, prompting a firefight with a South Korean military unit after several shells landed south of the border.

In 2022, Kim Yo-Jong said that North Korea would “wipe the South Korean government off the face of the earth” if “garbage” continued to fly from South Korea. Last week, North Korea's Vice Defense Minister Kim Kang-il warned that “South Korea's balloon distribution of leaflets is a dangerous provocation”.

In the same year, North Korean drones violated the airspace of South Korea, in particular near the presidential residence. The South Korean military has come under fire for its failure to intercept drones. In response, the Yun administration has pledged to strengthen the country's drone capability and readiness and set up a joint drone command in 2024.

Pyongyang's withdrawal from the inter-Korean de-risking agreement last year and continued refusal to respond to hotline messages reduce the ability to prevent inadvertent mistakes or military skirmishes.

President Yoon Suk-yeol now faces a dilemma: capitulate to the North's demands or respond decisively. He has repeatedly criticized his predecessor's conciliatory approach to North Korea and vowed to respond firmly to any North Korean provocation. But if you don't obey Pyongyang's demands or open fire on balloons, it risks escalation.

About the author

Bruce Klingner – is a senior fellow in Northeast Asia at the Heritage Foundation. Previously, he worked for 20 years in the CIA and the Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense, in particular as the deputy chief of the CIA's Korean division.

Natasha Kumar

By Natasha Kumar

Natasha Kumar has been a reporter on the news desk since 2018. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Times Hub, Natasha Kumar worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my 1-800-268-7116

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