Hinting that South Korea will soon alter its defense posture against North Korea, President Lee Myung-bak yesterday lamented that the South Korean military hasn’t been able to define its “main enemy” for the past decade.
In a meeting with the nation’s elder statesmen yesterday, Lee was quoted by the Blue House as saying the South’s armed forces have “neglected threats under their noses and, instead, were more concerned about potential dangers from outside the country.”
In his national address Monday, Lee laid down a series of countermeasures after a multinational team of investigators determined that a North Korean torpedo attack sank the warship Cheonan on March 26. Lee vowed Seoul will no longer tolerate Pyongyang’s provocations and will assume a stance of “proactive deterrence.”
Lee’s words followed comments by government officials earlier in the day that the South’s government was considering redesignating North Korea as its “main enemy” in its defense policy document later this year.
The South Korean Defense White Paper first referred to North Korea as the main enemy in 1995. That was in response to comments by a North Korean representative during a 1994 inter-Korean meeting that Seoul would turn into “a sea of fire” if a war broke out on the peninsula.
In 2004, under the Kim Dae-jung administration, the description of North Korea as an “enemy” was removed. The defense policy paper only described North Korea as presenting a “direct military threat” against the South.
Kim and his successor Roh Moo-hyun adopted an engagement policy toward North Korea, pushing for reconciliation on the peninsula.
But the situation has changed after the Cheonan incident, which Lee called “a military provocation.”
“Now that President Lee spoke of the concept of our main enemy, [redesignation of North Korea] will be practically considered,” Blue House spokeswoman Kim Eun-hye said.
Lee was quoted as saying, “North Korea presents a threat, but we need to show them a definitive stance and we have the strength to do it.”
South Korea is also considering resuming a joint South-U.S. field maneuver drill. A high-ranking military official in Seoul said that would be part of the response to North Korea
South Korean and U.S. forces held field maneuver exercises known as “Team Spirit” from 1976 to 1993. A Team Spirit exercise was scheduled for 1994 but was canceled when North Korea agree to disable its nuclear weapons program.
The military official said yesterday the new exercise would be modeled after Team Spirit, which included up to 80,000 U.S. troops.
“Team Spirit was quite costly and the new field drills will be smaller in scale,” the official said. “But they will complement existing joint South Korea-U.S. exercises [which are named Key Resolve and Foal Eagle].”
Seoul and Washington have already agreed to stage a joint anti-submarine exercise in the near future. And the South Korean Navy will carry out its own maneuvering exercise tomorrow off the west coast.
Aside from military steps, the South on Monday also said it would scale down operations at the Kaesong Industrial Complex. And the Unification Ministry yesterday assigned quotas to South Korean companies in Kaesong on the number of employees allowed to stay overnight north of the border.
One Kaesong-based company said the Unification Ministry told it to cut the number of its employees staying in Kaesong by half from 12 to six.
By Yoo Jee-ho, Kim Min-seok [email@example.com]