[OUTLOOK]Weapons useless without the will

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[OUTLOOK]Weapons useless without the will

The people are fuming, the military is busy explaining to us the blind spots in its chain of command and the international media are having a field day criticizing North Korea's June 29 attack, but what is the government doing?

It is still asleep, with its obsession to prevent the scuttling of the "sunshine policy," despite the cost.

The authorities demand that North Korea apologize but stress that the sunshine policy is still valid because it is based on a solid security posture. This confidence comes from the government's self-evaluation that our military responded appropriately to the provocation to keep it from escalating.

This is nonsense. The government would be more honest if it explained that the North Korean attack was the accidental result of an ongoing conflict between North Korean Workers' Party and its military and that there is no problem as long as these small skirmishes don't grow too big.

The more the government tries to play down the meaning of the clash in the Yellow Sea, the more the truth will be distorted. So what is the military significance of the clash?

To put it bluntly, the result of the incident in the Yellow Sea is that the combat will of our military has been damaged and its deterrence and retaliatory power have been compromised.

Of course there is no need to exaggerate the problems in our military system, rules of engagement and the combined management system for a military crisis. But if it is true that our navy held back because of the threat of a North Korean missile attack, how are all the diverse military threats to be prevented and retaliated against when necessary?

As shown clearly in recent days by the war in Afghanistan, no matter what modern weapons one possesses, not all the state-of-the-art stealth bombers and cruise missiles would mean anything without the political and military determination to carry on military operations and prosecute the war. In the end, the 700,000-strong forces of the Taliban were made to look like paper tigers.

The Defense Ministry is pursuing plans to acquire new weaponry over the next 10 years. The ministry intends to spend 1.2 trillion won ($1 billion) for its heavy weaponry acquisition project, including plans to buy next-generation fighters, antiaircraft missiles, tactical airborne warning and control systems and KDX-III destroyers. There are other projects to renovate outdated systems and reinforce the strategic information collection system. The basic motivation for this Korean-style revolution in military affairs is to respond more actively to the military buildup of neighboring countries, including North Korea. There is plenty of reason to continue such efforts to strengthen our military power, but as long as the military threat from North Korea exists, the mere possession of modern weapons cannot make up for the lack of military determination and a swift military response to provocations.

Even if we spend millions of dollars to purchase early warning systems, there is no guarantee that we can grasp the exact intentions of North Korean ships that cross over the Northern Limit Line into our waters. It is doubtful whether even the positioning of KDX-III Aegis-class destroyers in the area would bring any results, seeing how our patrol ships could not manage a high-speed chase after the North Korean ships. The details of the orders to our speed boats to refrain from firing at the North Korean ships will become known soon, but at the end of the day, our vessels backed off right after realizing that North Korean missile radar had been activated and that they were within range of the missiles.

This course of action cannot be completely condemned; it was pursued with the intention of preventing as much damage as possible to our ships. But damage is to be expected in any battle.

North Korea is already aiming long-range missiles at us; they have over 500 ballistic missiles that can hit all of South Korea. Deterrence is nullified if we hesitate to respond immediately to an attack from the North for fear of a bigger attack. A modern combat management system and modern weapons are necessary elements for strong deterrence and effective defense, but they are useless if there is no determination to use those military means.

Israel is carrying out military operations to retaliate for the suicide bomb terror that the Palestinians are waging against it. Had it chosen a unilaterally embracing policy such as ours, the consequences would have been more terrible than the present situation. But what can be said to a government that is determined to stick it out for the sunshine policy rather than resort to what it probably considers dangerous and bellicose methods like those of Israel?


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The writer is a professor of international relations at the Graduate School of International Studies, Yonsei University.

by Lee Chung-min

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