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Loudspeakers: The Winning Strategy Against North Korea? Part II

By   /  April 28, 2016  /  No Comments

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Beginning of this year, South Korea and North Korea began shouting at each other again. It was just last August when the escalated tension between two divided nations came to a halt. Then on January 6, North Korea conducted an underground nuclear test at Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site, causing tension between the two Koreas. The United States Geological Service reported a 5.1 magnitude earthquake from the location[1]; China Earthquake Networks Center described the seismic activity a “suspected explosion.”[2] As the investigation of the test began, South Korea began blasting loudspeakers over the border again.

What is Broadcasted Over the Loudspeakers?

Propaganda has been a useful weapon to South Korea since the Korean War. North Korea is a nation where its survival is based on isolation. Information is closely monitored, and its people live in complete isolation from the world. The Juche ideology, the cornerstone of party works and government operations, emphasizes a Korea-centered revolution. The three core tenets are political independence, economic self-sustenance, and self-reliance in defense. North Korean government controls almost every aspect of its people, and this control is use to perpetuate a cult of personality surrounding Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il. Since its people does not have any idea of the world outside of North Korea, much of the broadcast over the loudspeakers are world news, weather, and K-pop songs, mostly intended to demoralize North Korean soldiers along the border. World news and weather is broadcasted as a strategy to gain trust of the North Koreans at the border and foster mistrust in its own government. Weather, for example, is broadcasted giving warnings of rain or snow. North Koreans who hear this broadcast soon find out the weather broadcast to be true and respond accordingly, such as carrying umbrella when they go out or collecting and taking their laundry inside their home. South Korean pop and drama are broadcasted due to its popularity in North Korea, especially because North Korea pretty much has no pop culture and to show them that the world has modernized. Moreover, North Koreans are prohibited from listening to K-pop, and are allowed to listen only to government-controlled radio stations or TV channels. Despite the restriction by the government, South Korean pop culture has crossed into North Korea. Some defectors say that South Korean music is popular in their country. [3]

How long is the broadcast and how far does the sound travel? According to South Korean military spokesperson, there were two to six hours of broadcast daily, day and night, without any set schedule. The distance of the broadcasts varies depending on the time of the day and the weather. During the day, the broadcast carries for over six miles, and on maximum power at night, it can reach as far as 15 miles. This is far enough to reach Kaesong, one of the largest cities in North Korea,

Does it work?

While it is difficult to know how much influence the broadcast has in North Korea, it seems to be an effective propaganda tool. Even though the broadcast is heard up to 15 miles from the border, it is possible that the message could spread via cell phone.[4] Ju Seung-hyeon, who served in a North Korean propaganda broadcast station on the border before defecting in the early 2000s, told a South Korean newspaper that Seoul’s messages influenced his opinions over a prolonged period. He initially believed that the broadcasts were lies. However, in a span of two years, he believed most of it.[5] Jang Jin-sung, a former North Korean propaganda official and who defected North Korea in 2004, said that the broadcast are powerful because they undermine the North Korean government and “it’s akin to a peaceful version of the nuclear bomb.”[6]

The use of loudspeakers caused exchange of artilleries between the two countries last August, before South Korea agreed to halt them. Moreover, North Korean delegates repeatedly demanded the halt of the broadcast, citing concerns that it was agitating their solders on the border. North Korea’s violent retaliation and South Korea’s loudspeakers may be an indication that it is a powerful weapon against North Korea, or at least it is a powerful bargaining chip to use in negotiations.

[1] Greg Botelho, U.N. Poised to Act against North Korea After Latest Nuclear Test, CNN Jan. 7, 2016,  http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/06/asia/north-korea-hydrogen-bomb-test/index.html.

[2] North Korea Claims Successful Hydrogen Bomb Test After Quake, Channel NewsAsia Jan, 6, 2016, http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asiapacific/man-made-quake-detected/2402490.html.

[3] Ask a North Korean, Do You Love K-pop, Guardian Newspaper, June 18, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jun/18/k-pop-south-korea-ask-a-north-korean.

[4] Alexandre Dor, North Korea’s Achilles Heel: Propaganda Broadcasts, The Diplomat, Sept. 12, 2015, http://thediplomat.com/2015/09/north-koreas-achilles-heel-propaganda-broadcasts/.

[5] Alastair Gale, High-Wattage Speakers Play Role In Korean Deal, Wall St. J., Aug. 28, 2016,  http://www.wsj.com/articles/high-wattage-speakers-play-role-in-korean-deal-1440758282.

[6] Id.


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