As It Happens

South Korea plans 'decapitation unit' to assassinate Kim Jong-un

Sanctions don't seem to deter North Korea, so its southern neighbour is taking a more aggressive tact.
South Korea is creating a special forces unit that would attempt to assassinate North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un in the even of a nuclear strike. (Reuters)

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The UN Security Council recently passed its toughest sanctions yet against North Korea — but that did not stop the country from conducting another missile test on Thursday.

Once again, the test drew widespread condemnation from world leaders and it sparked yet another plan for the UN Security Council to meet. 

But some countries are mulling a different approach, and South Korea certainly has a provocative one. It just approved plans to create a "decapitation unit."

According to the New York Times, officials said the unit could conduct cross-border raids, aided by helicopters and transport planes. The operations would penetrate North Korea at night. There is no suggestion the unit has been deployed.

Park Hui-rak, a retired colonel with the South Korean military and a politics professor at Kookmin University in Seoul, spoke to As It Happens guest host Jim Brown about the proposed special forces unit. Here is part of their conversation.

Mr. Park, let me start with a very blunt question: Does your country have a plan to decapitate Kim Jong-un?

I'm not sure. That could be confidential. But it's one of the desperate measures we have to take. We don't have nuclear weapons so we cannot threaten North Korea that if you attack us with nuclear weapons we will retaliate with more powerful nuclear weapons.

So our threatening message to North Korea is that if Kim Jong-un decides to nuclear attack South Korea, South Korea would kill Kim Jong-un, even though we have to suffer from the North Korean nuclear attack. So that could be the only kind of realistic and possible way for South Korea to change Kim Jong-un's mindset for the nuclear attack. 
Anti-North Korea activists shout slogans and hold placards during a protest in Seoul. (Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images)

And how would this unit work?

We don't know. But I think that South Korean special forces have a good relationship with U.S. special forces. Also, I think the U.S. would help to make that unit achieve its mission.

The fact that South Korea is being so public about this strategy, you have to feel that a lot of this is basically intended to make Kim Jong-un nervous.

Yes, you're right. I think you know that South Korea and North Korea are technically at war. Some people say that North Korea developed nuclear weapons to be recognized as a nuclear state and to protect its regime or to have good conditions for negotiations with the United States or consolidate Kim Jong-un's domestic support.

But we believe that North Korea developed their nuclear weapons to reunify the Korean peninsula on its terms. In other words, colonization of South Korea. So we should be very nervous and we should try to mobilize all possible means to defend our country and that could be the idea of the decapitation unit. 

Park Hui-rak is a retired colonel with the South Korean military. (Park Hui-rak)

Couldn't it backfire? If this unit was engaged, what's to prevent North Korea from taking the actions that all of us have been fearing?

The important mission of this unit is not to kill Kim Jong-un before nuclear war. The mission is if Kim Jong-un attacks South Korea with nuclear weapons, this unit would go into the North Korean territory and find Kim Jong-un and kill.

So, killing in advance may not work. We know that it is very risky, and even though we kill Kim Jong-un, we know there could be some other guy who controls the nuclear weapons and decides to attack South Korea. So, its main mission is deterrence, not attack. 

South Korean soldiers participate in an anti-chemical terror exercise at subway station on Aug. 22, 2017, in Seoul. (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

Is it your contention that South Korea needs its own nuclear weapons?

In theory, I think that the only weapons which could defend a country from a nuclear armed country is a nuclear weapon. Without nuclear weapons, we cannot make an effective deterrent. I think that it is becoming a very hard time for South Korea and many South Koreans are getting very, very desperate and frustrated.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. For more on this story, listen to our full interview with Park Hui-rak. 


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