Republic of Korea security forces prepare for Olympics

Republic of Korea security forces prepare for Olympics

Felix Kim

Security preparations are underway for the 2018 Winter Olympics to be held in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

The Republic of Korea (ROK) military has established a command center in Pyeongchang, according to the Yonhap news agency. ROK Defense Minister Song Young-moo inspected the center on December 12, 2017, and said his country’s troops would be making every effort to support the Pyeongchang games.

Song emphasized the military’s role in the successful hosting of a “Peace Olympics,” stating that he has ordered the military to maintain a firm defense posture so the world can enjoy the Olympics without security concerns.

FORUM spoke with Moon Seong-mook, chief of the Unification Strategy Center at the Korea Research Institute for National Strategy, about South Korea’s security preparations for the Winter Games.

“I think our military is fully prepared,” Moon said. “They are fully positioned to deter and respond to any provocation from the North. Moreover, they have provided much of the necessary support for the international sporting event.”

For example, ROK police SWAT teams and fire patrols took part in a series of terror drills in Pyeongchang on December 12, 2017, Reuters reported. (Pictured: A South Korean SWAT team drills at the Olympic stadium, the venue for the opening and closing ceremony of the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games.)

The military has dispatched 6,000 personnel to work in such areas as transportation, translation and guard duty, Moon added, coordinated through the Pyeongchang command center.

“I think the military has made every effort for the successful hosting of the Winter Games,” he said. “Even a lot of reserve officers will join the games as volunteers.”

U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) CEO Scott Blackmun, meanwhile, told Reuters that he has met with the commander of U.S. Forces Korea (USFK), Gen. Vincent Brooks. There is constant communication between USOC and USFK and similar channels have been established with local law enforcement and government, Blackmun said. He added that U.S. athletes feel secure in traveling to Pyeongchang and that the International Olympic Committee is addressing any conflicts between nations that could affect the games.

North Korea’s past interference with major South Korean sporting events has prompted South Korean officials to call for ramped-up military and security preparedness as the Winter Games approach.

Moon described past provocations by the North, such as the bombing of a Korean Airlines passenger plane in 1987, a year before the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, and the Second Battle of Yeonpyeong when ROK patrol boats were attacked by North Korean patrol boats that had crossed into South Korean waters during the 2002 FIFA World Cup, which was then being held in South Korea and Japan.

“There are always chances for Pyongyang to make provocative acts,” he said. A new missile test is a distinct possibility, as is a nuclear weapons test at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site. “Therefore, we must be fully prepared.”

Felix Kim is a FORUM contributor reporting from Seoul, South Korea.