The Republic of Korea, more commonly known as South Korea, is one of the economic success stories of the past half-century. The nation emerged from the early 1950s war-torn and impoverished. Soon after, South Korea launched itself on a path of rapid economic growth and development. Today, it is considered one of the world’s more prosperous and developed nations. Korean firms such as Daewoo, Hyundai, LG, and Samsung are well-known brands with a global reach. As a result of this success, businesses from all over the world have established a presence in the Republic. In fact, there are now an estimated one million foreigners living in South Korea while millions more tourists and business travelers visit the country each year.
South Korea is a politically stable nation with relatively low rates of crime. Over the past 60 years, however, the Republic has lived under the perpetual threat of invasion by its Northern neighbor. Unfortunately, this threat has grown more troubling recently. After the death of Kim Jong-il in December 2011, the North Korean government embarked on a leadership transition. The coming months may prove especially precarious as many observers believe that North Korea’s new leader, Kim Jon-un, will use a military provocation to demonstrate his strength and legitimacy. Considering the recent failure of a much touted missile launch, that provocation is likely to be sooner rather than later. Consequently, many analysts predict that the North will attempt to re-establish its credibility by conducting another nuclear test in the near future. The situation on the Korean peninsula is likely to remain tense over the next few months.
To be sure, tensions on the Korean peninsula have ebbed and flowed for 60 years without an outbreak of war. However, the equilibrium will not hold indefinitely. North Korea has gradually become weaker and more isolated since the collapse of the Soviet Union. There is also increasing evidence that the North’s strongest backer, China, has grown tired of the antics of its long-time ally. It appears that there is a possibility that some type of crisis or conflict could break out over the coming decade. Therefore, firms with employees and business interests in the country should develop a crisis and evacuation plan in the event of such a conflict.
While it is impossible to determine how a war on the Korean peninsula will unfold, some elements can be foreseen. For example, initial fighting is likely to be centered on areas around the De-Militarized Zone (DMZ). Unfortunately, this includes Seoul, which is located just 30 miles south of the DMZ. Seoul is Korea’s largest city and has the largest number of expatriates. Moreover, two of Korea’s busiest airports, Incheon and Gimpo, are located near the Korean capital. In the event of a conflict, these two airports could quickly become unusable. Comprehensive evacuation plans, therefore, should consider multiple contingencies and take into account other ports of departure in the country’s south. Luckily, Korea has a good road system and an excellent train system that connect the country’s northern and southern reaches. In fact, there is a high-speed rail link between Seoul and Korea’s southern city of Busan. However, these routes may become over-crowded in an emergency and firms should be prepared to deal with this eventuality.
Fortunately, there are many airports south of the DMZ suitable for evacuation. There are international airports near Pusan (Gimhae international), Chongju , Taegu, and Muan International (near Mokpo). There are also domestic airports in Wonju, Gunsan (west of Chonju), Yosu, Sancheon-Chinju, Ulsan, and Kwangju. Even though these are domestic airports, they may host international flights during a crisis. Even if they do not, all of these airports offer flights to Korea’s southern island of Chei-do, which should remain relatively insulated from the conflict. (See Map)
However, a large war could damage many airports while other airports could be requisitioned by the military. In this case, there should be plans in place for a water evacuation. South Korea has several large and well functioning ports suitably far away from the DMZ in places such as Gunsan, Mokpo, Gwangyang (north of Yosu), Pusan, Masan (west of Pusan), Ulsan, and Pohang (east of Taegu). Crisis planners should familiarize themselves with the shipping companies that operate out of these ports as they may prove valuable backups if other means of evacuation fail.
Moreover, planners should be aware of the threats that can often present themselves during times of crisis. For example, looters and profiteers are a common affliction during emergencies. It is also widely believed that North Korea could launch groups of commando-infiltrators in order to sow disorder in areas south of the DMZ. Employees should be made aware of these potential hazards, and trained to avoid them to the extent they are able.
Given the dangers and multiple contingencies, many firms may feel incapable of drafting a comprehensive crisis and evacuation plan. Others may have the capability but lack the time to do so. However, there are security and travel risk firms such IMG GlobalSecur that specialize in this type of planning. The experts at these companies can help businesses draft their crisis and evacuation plans as well as brief and train employees on what to do in the event of an emergency.
In conclusion, South Korea is a safe, prosperous and democratic country. It is the home of many of the world’s famous brands and will be a destination for expatriates and business travelers for some time to come. However, the threat of a major war has been ever-present on the peninsula for over a half century and will not abate any time soon. While firms should not believe that such a conflict is imminent, they should acknowledge that it remains a possibility and plan accordingly.