A tense border tops month’s magazinesBecause of the war with Iraq and apprehension that North Korea may be next on the United States’ attack radar, many Korean publications have published articles dealing with the tensions surrounding the North’s bid to produce nuclear weapons.
While the possible repositioning of United States forces stationed in Korea has made headlines in Korea’s daily newspapers, monthly publications like the Monthly JoongAng have also provided in-depth looks at the situation. In addition, as the new government has chosen to break the norms in appointing its cabinet ministers and other key government positions, articles on the upcoming appointments to departments such as the army have also appeared in publications like the Shindonga.
Will U.S. forces refuse to serve as the border’s tripwire? All bets are on.
The Monthly JoongAng analyzes the current political situation on the Korean peninsula and the meaning of the American armed forces here, in particular the 2d division located near the border area.
Suggesting that the peninsula might be next on the United States’ war agenda, the magazine’s author argues that a possible partial movement of the 2d Infantry Division south of the Han River may alter the military balance on the peninsula. American troops are viewed as a trip wire for U.S. engagement should North Korea decide to attack the South.
The article also suggested that the move to reposition the forces falls in line with the Pentagon's strike-first attitude, whose roots trace back to the Clinton administration’s Defense Counter Proliferation Initiative theory of 1993. That philosophy espoused preemptive strikes against nations if the spread of weapons of mass destruction can’t be halted through diplomatic meanings.
The JoongAng stated that the Americans’ withdrawal from the border would place the 2d division out of imminent danger and remove the possibility of entrapment by rapidly advancing North Korean special forces, a hostage situation similar to the 1979 Iran Embassy incident, for which the United States lacks much of a contingency plan.
According to the magazine, the move would give the United States a free hand in executing a preemptive strike on the North’s nuclear facilities.
The magazine agreed that public opinion favoring a re-evaluation of the relationship between both countries and the role of United States forces here has gained momentum, but stated that the government’s stance should be somewhat distanced from such opinion and more rational.
The magazine also cited the opinion of Shim Jae-hun, a former New York Times reporter. Mr. Shim argued that the election of Rho Moo-hyun, a president who vowed to incorporate the liberal Sunshine policy of former Kim Dae-jong in its dealings with the North, has implanted doubt and distrust in Washington about the Rho administration. The Rho government must strive to erase that mood to form a healthy relationship with the Bush administration.
In its article, the JoongAng included an excerpt from The Wall Street Journal which argued that the repositioning of American forces in Korea was a sure sign of impending attack on the North’s nuclear facilities. In addition, parts of Thomas Schwartz’s 4-year old report on the Korean peninsula to the CIA and other government organizations were included. It predicted that within three hours of an attack by the North, American forces on the border would be crushed.
Although numerically, American forces in Korea account for only about 5 percent of the South’s total combat power ― roughly the equivalent of two or three Korean divisions ― the magazine’s author noted that American forces bring several vital strengths to domestic military ability. These include the ability to detect a threat from the North in advance, anti-missile capability, the ability to withstand the North’s massive artillery shelling, and special attack planes like the A-10 Warthog, which can repel an avalanche of the North’s mechanized forces
The magazine’s writer concluded that the 2d division’s position on the border serves a dual purpose: it prevents the United States from carrying out a preemptive strike against the North, and serves as a tripwire deterrent against any aggression toward the South.
Power lies with Jeolla natives in Korean Army
The Korean Army has long been considered the fiefdom of Jeolla province natives since Kim Dae-jung came to power.
The monthly magazine Shindonga makes its case for this theory by citing promotions of full colonels in 1999.
That year, only 140 out of the 2,700 colonels eligible for promotion did advance to the general level. Out of those 140 promotions, 79 military officers hailed from either the Jeolla or Gyeongsang provinces, with 46 coming from the former and 33 from the latter region.
The Shindonga pointed out that when promotion announcements are made, usually only the total number of officers who are promoted is mentioned. However, the number of officers who were eligible for promotion from each region is often not mentioned.
In 1999, the pool of officers from North and South Jeolla provinces totaled 660 while North and South Gyeongsang provinces had a pool of 900. The article’s authors suggest that despite coming from a smaller pool, Jeolla-area officers received some clear benefits.
In addition, the magazine’s writer suggested that it is generals from the Jeolla provinces who secure key Army spots, making them the real, behind-the-scene force.
For example, the Army personnel office’s promotion department is led by Brigadier General Jeong Hui-seong, a native of a Jeolla province.
In the case of the Defense Security Command ― one of the most powerful Army units ― under Kim Dae-jung, the unit’s three top generals all came from the Jeolla region as did all other key Command officers.
According to the Shindonga, recommendations from the command are crucial to promotions. Another powerful Army organization, the Special Warfare Command, was also headed by generals from the Jeolla region.
The magazine suggested that the new government must quell the growing dissatisfaction in the Army.
North Korean nuclear threat under the lens
In its April edition, the monthly Chosun featured an interview with Doctor Jeong Geun-mo, who served as the chairman of the International Atomic Energy Agency and is now chancellor of Hoseo University.
When asked in the interview at what point North Korea should be considered a nuclear-armed state, Dr. Jeong suggested that the moment it conducts underground nuclear tests it would be firm. But he noted that North Korea could also develop a “dirty bomb” which does not necessarily explode but disperses radioactive material.
He suggested that even if the North did not produce weapons-grade plutonium on its own, it could have obtained it on the black market by now.
Dr. Jeong argued that since the Rho government opposes any retaliatory measures against the North, and North Korea would consider any such measures as hostile, the United States has the option of pressuring China into exercising some influence on the North.
During the interview, the chancellor emphasized that twice in the last two decades, the United States had stopped Taiwan's effort to develop nuclear arms.
For that, China owed the United States even though Beijing has stressed it does not have any leverage over the North.
Pointing to the fact that China gives the North 80 percent of its oil and coal supplies, accounting for most of its energy needs, Dr. Jeong argues that such arguments are rubbish.
Dr. Jeong concluded that in the worst case, the North's efforts to develop nuclear weapons can be repelled with electronic pulse weapons which render nuclear weapons unusable, while the massive artillery threat can be eliminated through tactical nuclear weapons that have no radioactive fallout.
He warned that the current political leadership’s do-nothing attitude would not resolve the crisis, and could even provoke the North. The Rho administration must form a concrete plan immediately, he said.
by Brian Lee