United States Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made some provocative remarks at a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee last Wednesday. He said that as the U.S. military is deeply involved in Iraq and Afghanistan, it will not be able to come to South Korea in a timely manner, and that the Navy and Air Force will fill the vacuum left by a delay in committing ground forces in Korea in case of an emergency.
Under “Operations Plan 5027,” a scenario for a war of aggression against North Korea, Washington is committed to dispatching some 690,000 troops to the peninsula within two months after a war breaks out. However, the defense secretary publicly announced that troops will not be deployed as scheduled. He insisted that for the time being the U.S. will be unable to properly handle any emergency situation in the early stages, even if a war breaks out on the Korean Peninsula. Therefore, some of his comments may be considered provocative, given the fact that they may be misleading to North Korea.
The reason why Gates’s remarks received special attention is mainly due to the chaotic situation in the North. Amid an atmosphere in which people have become even more dissatisfied and agitated with the currency reform there, signs of conflict between the army and the Communist Party have also appeared. Some experts say that there may be difficulties with the command and control systems in the seat of power due to Kim Jong-il’s poor health and the succession issue.
Against this backdrop, it seems that the U.S. Army has told the North that they should take advantage of this golden opportunity to invade the South while the U.S. is tied up in the Middle East.
However, the Korean government insists that this is not a serious problem. The spokesman of the Ministry of National Defense is busy trying to convince people of this, saying that Secretary Gates insisted that the U.S. Army has the capacity to respond to emergency situations with support from the U.S. Navy and Air Force, although the commitment of ground forces to Korea would be delayed.
But should we really be so relaxed?
North Korea has 70 percent of its entire force stationed near the border with the South, and has 8,000 long-range artillery systems along the military demarcation line, presumably for a surprise attack against the South. If the U.S. Army is delayed in its response to such a situation, can our army respond effectively to any assault by North Korea?
South Korea is slated to assume wartime operational control of its military forces in April 2012. However, there is not as yet a detailed operational plan for the Korean-led force. The process of developing “Concept Plan 5029” into an operational plan to prepare for any kind of emergency in North Korea is currently underway. In that case, U.S. armed forces could be withdrawn from the Korean Peninsula at any time. In addition, reform of the South Korean military continues at a snail’s pace due to budgetary constraints, and a vacuum is growing within our nation’s defense capabilities.
We should prepare ourselves for the worst-case scenario, keeping in mind that our greatest enemy is “hopeful expectation.”
The government should help the nation prepare for all emergency situations. Needless to say, it is of great importance to propel the Korea-U.S. alliance to a new level. If we had no problems with the alliance with the U.S., these words would not have come out of the lips of Defense Secretary Gates.