Home News Frightening to Keep away from Warfare: North Korea’s Hybrid Safety Methods

Frightening to Keep away from Warfare: North Korea’s Hybrid Safety Methods


So-called ‘hybrid’ safety methods, typically additionally labelled ‘hybrid warfare’, are a lot mentioned amongst army and safety consultants in recent times. Russia is usually talked about as using such hybrid safety methods, but there are extra states that use them efficiently, and, in some circumstances, for a lot of a long time already. North Korea is a kind of examples. If one defines a hybrid safety technique because the built-in deployment by states of varied means and actors with a view to affect or coerce different states with the goal of attaining strategic goals whereas avoiding precise armed battle, North Korea presents an fascinating instance of how profitable such methods might be in the long term.

This text concisely analyses the North Korean expertise with hybrid safety methods. First, the goals of the North Korean technique can be mentioned. Subsequent, the evolving set of coverage instruments getting used can be described, in addition to some particular traits. The article will conclude with a number of basic observations and classes that may very well be discovered from the North Korean case. 

Overseas coverage and home goals

North Korea launched into a method of low-level, uneven, or hybrid safety methods after the Korean Warfare of 1950–1953 through which it tried in useless to unify each Koreas by army means. After the armistice (not an official peace settlement) that ended the warfare, North Korea had no different alternative however to acknowledge that it might not be capable to win a conventional army battle towards South Korea, given its alliance with  the USA. The regime in Pyongyang thus determined to concentrate on a method of uneven safety insurance policies with a view to obtain necessary goals in the direction of South Korea and the USA, whereas avoiding full-scale battle. The goals of North Korea’s hybrid safety methods, in numerous codecs utilized between the Nineteen Fifties and right this moment, might be divided into two classes: overseas coverage goals and home goals.

On the overseas coverage degree, the primary objective is deterrence. The regime in Pyongyang sincerely fears regime-change efforts from overseas; not solely from South Korea and the USA, however extra within the background additionally from different neighbouring powers akin to China and Russia (Lankov 2013: 183-184). To discourage such efforts, North Korea repeatedly presents itself as a robust army actor, an unpredictable and harmful participant. To achieve this goal, hybrid strategies are used alongside extra typical deterrent insurance policies akin to huge investments within the armed forces, together with the event of Weapons of Mass Destruction. Provocations, each army and non-military, are supposed to sign that North Korea is so highly effective that any try to threaten it can fail and finish in bloody retaliation (Roehrig 2006). In different phrases: provocations are thought-about essential to keep away from precise warfare.

Alongside the goal of deterrence, hybrid safety operations are supposed to weaken North Korea’s enemies. The technique is that any motion that hurts the USA or ‘US-occupied’ South Korea implies elevated power for North Korea. Particularly within the Sixties, Pyongyang hoped that hybrid actions may destabilize South Korea and spark a communist revolution there, in flip resulting in the unification of each Koreas. This hope was misplaced fairly early, nevertheless, when South Korea’s anti-communist sentiments proved to be very robust (Lankov 2013: 27-32). Because the Seventies, makes an attempt at destabilisation have meant to harm and weaken South Korean safety with a view to enhance North Korea’s relative power.

Furthermore, North Korea’s hybrid safety technique is deemed to create room for manoeuvre for the regime in its overseas coverage. Its hybrid safety actions sign that worldwide guidelines and norms of state behaviour can’t be enforced upon North Korea, and that different states must settle for that the North Korean regime could act because it needs. An instance of exactly that is the large illicit commerce by the regime to avoid financial sanctions, which isn’t solely helpful for the North Korean economic system and the luxurious lifetime of the elite, but in addition indicators that worldwide sanctions can’t harm North Korea.

The home coverage goals behind the hybrid safety methods are equally vital. North Korea’s regime actively makes use of the picture of a harmful enemy from overseas to keep up the help of its inhabitants. The enduring message to the inhabitants is: help this regime, as a result of solely these highly effective leaders are capable of forestall overseas invasion and oppression. Creating persevering with tensions with ‘enemies’ overseas and exhibiting the inhabitants the regime’s army successes to counter these enemies are needed propaganda instruments for this home goal (Byman & Lind 2010: 53-54). In the meantime, nevertheless, these tensions and army successes mustn’t trigger precise warfare, which the regime realises it might lose for positive.

An evolving set of coverage instruments

The North Korean ‘coverage instruments’ of its hybrid safety technique have advanced over the a long time. Some instruments are now not used, some are quite new, and a few appear to be ever-continuing. The principle hybrid safety instruments which were employed by North Korea between the Nineteen Fifties and right this moment can be mentioned right here.

Terrorist assaults have been recurrently utilized by North Korea prior to now, whereas they haven’t been performed because the Nineties. That is most likely as a result of modified worldwide notion of terrorism, which was extra widespread globally within the Seventies and Eighties, however, particularly after the Lockerbie bombing in 1988, the tide turned and state-sponsored terrorism was a lot faster to be condemned and retaliated towards. North Korea instantly recognised this altering surroundings and ceased this type of exercise. A number of examples of North Korean terrorist assaults to harm its enemies whereas remaining beneath the extent of formal warfare are: the assault on the South Korean presidential residence in 1968; the assault on the South Korean President in 1974, through which his spouse was killed; the bomb assault throughout a South Korean state go to to Burma in 1983, which killed, amongst many others, 4 South Korean ministers; and the bombing of a South Korean airliner in 1987, killing all 115 individuals aboard (Armstrong 2013: 235-239).

The various kidnappings of South Korean and Japanese residents within the Seventies and Eighties, typically through the use of small submarines, are a sophisticated difficulty on this context, as a result of the goals of the kidnappings various: some abductees needed to prepare spies; others had been kidnapped in order that North Korean infiltrators may take over their identification; and in a number of circumstances film administrators and actors had been kidnapped to enhance the North Korean movie trade (Armstrong 2013: 237-238).

Murdering North Korean defectors and exiles overseas, for instance Kim Jong Un’s half-brother Kim Jong Nam who was killed with the extraordinary VX nerve fuel in Malaysia in 2017, is supposed to discourage each former and present members of the North Korean elite from even considering of opposing the regime (Ellis-Petersen & Haas 2019).

Army shock assaults are additionally getting used recurrently. A few of them are comparatively massive, such because the shelling of a South Korean island in 2010 and the torpedoing of a South Korean naval vessel in the identical yr (Lankov 2013: 179). Different shock assaults are smaller however not much less stunning to the ‘enemy’, such because the axe killing of two US troopers in 1976 or the incidents in 2015 through which North Korean army hid landmines alongside South Korean border patrol strolling routes. The deliberate explosion of the liaison workplace with South Korea in 2020 was additionally meant to indicate how forceful and ‘harmful’ North Korea might be (Shin & Smith 2020).

There’s a skinny line between provocative assaults and mere bullying. North Korea has made provocative bullying a hybrid safety instrument as nicely. Examples embody the opening of dams at border rivers, leading to sudden floods that kill individuals on the South Korean aspect of the border, but in addition the common jamming of International Positioning System (GPS) indicators, affecting air and naval site visitors in South Korea (Mizokami 2016).

A quite new instrument is cyber-warfare. Because the 2000s, North Korea has been accused of varied cyber-attacks geared toward South Korean organisations, together with banks and media organisations, with seemingly no goal aside from destabilising South Korean society for a short second. Cyber espionage and cyber theft of (security-related) data and cash are recurrently used as nicely, not solely concentrating on South Korea and the USA, however used globally. An instance is the digital financial institution theft of 81 million US Greenback from the Central Financial institution of Bangladesh in 2017. This type of monetary cyber criminality is supposed to avoid financial sanctions and thus exhibiting the invulnerability of North Korea as nicely (Baezner 2018).

Intelligent calculating

North Korea fastidiously conducts its hybrid actions inside sure limits, cleverly calculating conventional South Korean restraint from escalating any response to stop precise warfare. South Korea realises that finally it might win such a warfare, however not after struggling huge numbers of casualties and harm. Holding the hundreds of thousands of inhabitants of Seoul (solely 60 kilometres from the border) as hostages with its huge artillery has confirmed a useful gizmo for North Korea and created room for manoeuvre because the Nineteen Fifties. It additionally reassures North Korea that South Korea won’t solely avert escalation itself however will actively foyer its ally the USA as nicely to stop any escalation in the direction of precise warfare (Barnett 2020).

An integral a part of any hybrid safety technique is dividing different actors by inflicting doubt concerning the accountability for the perpetrated actions and thus limiting worldwide responses to some extent. North Korea combines its hybrid actions with the tactic of denial as nicely. Even when there may be hardly any doubt concerning the perpetrator, North Korea nonetheless denies any involvement. For instance, even after a world investigation crew concluded {that a} North Korean torpedo had hit a South Korean naval vessel in 2010, North Korea persevered that it was harmless.

Lastly, North Korea’s most notorious provocative instrument, its nuclear weapons programme, is being utilized in a ‘hybrid’ method as nicely. Whereas utilizing nuclear weapons as a deterrent is neither novel nor hybrid, the dearth of secrecy across the North Korean nuclear programme is stunning. Lengthy earlier than its nuclear weapons had been usable in any respect, the regime was exploiting them already as a instrument of provocation. North Korea’s persistent threatening statements to make use of nuclear weapons, even earlier than they had been usable but, are supposed to frighten and thus deter perceived enemies, which in flip provides North Korea extra room for manoeuvre in worldwide relations as nicely (Van der Meer 2018).


The North Korean case presents numerous insights about hybrid safety methods typically. First, the phenomenon of hybrid safety methods will not be new. North Korea has been utilizing these methods for a lot of a long time, though they was labelled as ‘uneven’ or ‘unconventional’ prior to now. Second, the North Korean case reveals how efficient these methods are: for many years, North Korea has successfully used hybrid safety operations to impress, damage and bully its perceived enemies, whereas on the similar time stopping escalation to the extent of precise warfare. Whereas most of North Korea’s hybrid operations have targeted on its most direct ‘enemies’, the USA and South Korea, a few of them, akin to illicit commerce and cyber operations, are getting used on a worldwide degree as nicely.

An necessary function of North Korea’s hybrid technique is that it’s repeatedly adapting to ever-changing circumstances, and as such it has not turn into outdated. This additionally reveals that countering such hybrid safety methods requires steady flexibility. The broad number of ‘hybrid’ coverage instruments accessible, together with the often-unpredictable character of hybrid shock assaults, clearly point out that it’s onerous to organize for dealing successfully with an adversary utilizing such a method. Lastly, the North Korean case reveals that hybrid methods aren’t solely helpful for large powers akin to Russia. Hybrid methods will also be successfully utilized by smaller states going through larger enemies to discourage and provoke, whereas stopping any undesired escalation to precise armed battle that can not be received. North Korea may very well be beneficial as a chief case research as  the right way to make hybrid safety methods a long-term success and  how tough it’s to counter them successfully.


Armstrong, C.Okay. 2013. Tyranny of the Weak: North Korea and the World, 1950–1992, Ithaca, NY: Cornell College Press.

Baezner, M. 2018. Cyber Disruption and Cybercrime: Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Zurich: Heart for Safety Research ETH Zurich.

Barnett, D.S, et al. 2020. North Korean Conventional Artillery: A Means to Retaliate, Coerce, Deter, or Terrorize Populations, Santa Monica, CA: RAND Company.

Byman, D., and J. Lind. 2010. ‘Pyongyang’s Survival Technique: Instruments of Authoritarian Management in North Korea’, Worldwide Safety, Vol. 35, No. 1, 44-74.

Ellis-Petersen, H., and Haas, B. 2019. ‘How North Korea Got Away with the Assassination of Kim Jong-Nam’, The Guardian.

Lankov, A.. 2013. The Actual North Korea: Life and Politics within the Failed Stalinist Utopia, Oxford: Oxford College Press.

Mizokami, Okay. 2016. ‘North Korea is Jamming GPS Signals’, Fashionable Mechanics.

Roehrig, T. 2006. ‘Restraining the Hegemon: North Korea, the US and Asymmetrical Deterrence’, in: Tae-Hwan Kwak and Seung-Ho Joo (Eds), The USA and the Korean Peninsula within the twenty first Century, Aldershot: Ashgate, pp. 163–184.

Van der Meer, S. 2018. ‘Why North Korea Will Never Give Up its Nuclear Weapons’, Clingendael Spectator.

Shin, H., and J. Smith. 2020. ‘North Korea Destroys Inter-Korean Liaison Office in “Terrific Explosion”’, Reuters.

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