[OUTLOOK]Military changes are in the airThe weather has grown cold, but the temperature of our domestic politics is soaring in preparation for the Assembly elections next year. What is worrisome in this heat is the hint of a cold draft as never felt before in international military affairs. What is even more troubling is that we might have to suffer from the cold wave without preparations, becaue we were not able to read this military development correctly and wasted time.
In light of the world after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, the United States has pursued a military transformation, and has announced that it will conduct negotiations with its allies and the U.S. Congress to relocate its military capabilities abroad.
In a speech last week, Douglas Feith, the undersecretary of defense for policy, said that this review of military capabilities would be the most fundamental and comprehensive since World War II. The cold winter of change is creeping toward Korea, one of the main targets of these U.S. negotiations. Have we done enough to prepare for the winter chill? Or are we unaware of the seriousness of these cold times? We must keep in mind that this military cold wave will come fast and furious, whether we are prepared or not.
First of all, we must read the significance of this military transformation correctly. This transformation is not a simple one. The word “transformation” was first used in a 1997 report by a U.S. national security panel in an analysis of the U.S. military posture. Under the leadership of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the Bush administration is pursuing a military transformation as the core of its 21st-century national security strategy. The focus of the military transformation is to recognize that the world order in the post-Sept. 11 terror attacks is moving on from an industrial age to an information age. On the battlefield, not only nations, the only protagonists in the industrial age, but also new non-state actors, the antagonists of the information age, are forming networks throughout the world.
At the same time, the importance of information weapons is fast outpacing that of the weapons of mass destruction that appeared during the industrial revolution. Facing such changes in the world security environment, the Bush administration is pursuing a fundamental military transformation. The most concrete form the military transformation will take is in the relocation of U.S. troops abroad. Senior officials in the U.S. Defense Department see the U.S. troops currently stationed in Europe and Northeast Asia as historical remnants of the Cold War.
Therefore, they want smaller and more flexible units that could be mobilized more rapidly in times of emergency and cover a wider area. With the help of the information revolution, the United States wants to form a 21st-century military that can appear anywhere at any time it wants to. For that reason, the current talks about relocating U.S. troops in Korea are of a completely different nature than they were during the Cold War.
It is only a matter of time before the U.S. troops in Korea are replaced by a rapid deployment force to serve the entire East Asian region.
At the same time, the United States is pursuing changes in its military alliances from the Cold War era. Definite enemies such as the Soviet Union during the Cold War have disappeared, to be replaced by indefinite threats such as terrorists with weapons of mass destruction. To confront such threats, the United States is trying to form a new global network of alliances. As an example, Mr. Rumsfeld recently attended a meeting with other NATO defense ministers and talked highly of a change in the role of the NATO troops as international security support troops in Afghanistan.
Next, this military transformation emphasizes capability, not numbers. Although great numbers of soldiers and weapons of mass destruction were mobilized in full-scale wars in the industrial age, the information age requires only a small number of soldiers and state-of-the-art weapons in battles of information. The recent war in Iraq proved beyond doubt that it was superiority in sophisticated weapons and information technology, not numbers, that are decisive. Therefore, a reduction in the U.S. forces stationed abroad is inevitable and it will only be a matter of time before the U.S. troops in Korea are reduced as well.
Should our government try to react to the United States’ military transformation for security in the 21st century with a 19th century desire for autonomous self-defense, or with a 20th century Cold War mentality like North Korea? If so, we will experience a harsh military winter in this cold, cold Northeast Asia.
If we want the warm spring of peace to arrive on the Korean Peninsula, we must plan, prepare and implement military changes for ourselves for the 21st century.
* The writer is a professor of international relations at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Ha Young-sun