[OUTLOOK]Korea needs bigger defense role

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[OUTLOOK]Korea needs bigger defense role

Peace and stability has been possible in the Korean Peninsula for the last 50 years because of the Korea-U.S. military alliance. Peace and reunification will be possible in the Korean Peninsula in the future only if the Korea-U.S. military alliance is maintained. There is hardly anyone who does not agree with the above.
Especially, the U.S. troops in Korea have provided a symbolic and actual force of war deterrence. However, the situation in the Korean Peninsula these days shows us that we cannot forever remain in the current mutual defense system.
Part of the U.S. troops in Korea will be redeployed to Iraq. The U.S. troops in Korea, whose sole role had been to deter war in the Korean Peninsula, will now be mobilized anywhere around the world where necessary. Yet defense authorities reassure us that we do not need to worry about any weaknesses in our security right now.
However, the problem is in the helplessness of Korea which, as a partner of the Korean-American mutual defense, must agree and submit to the United States’ unilateral and arbitrary decision. Taking this occasion, it is desirable for both governments to start thorough discussions on fundamental changes that will be made in the joint defense system.
The current Korea-U.S. mutual defense system is not only effective because it joins the two forces together, but it’s also the best system to mobilize the U.S. military power that plays the key role in war deterrence.
However, under the present system that is led by the U.S. military, it is difficult to expect any substantial progress in the reinforcement of the Korean military, especially in the operation, planning and less tangible areas such as building up morale of the troops. This is why there is an urgent need for Korea to secure its own leadership role within the bounds of the Korean-Amercian joint defense system.
The problem is how to coordinate this leadership role of the Korean military and the Korea-U.S. mutual defense system. The formidable deterrence that the joint defense system provides, especially the assurance of U.S. reinforcement in wartime, is something we cannot afford to lose.
At the same time, we must take independent control over our operation and planning rights, and technologies, and we must reinforce our own military capabilities to support such rights.
Korea must redeem its wartime operation command of the Korean troops in the Korean-American Combined Forces Command as soon as possible. It needs to fortify its independence and change the combined command structure to a new structure led by the Korean military leadership in order to prepare for the time when the North and South co-exist peacefully.
In the second round of six-party talks held Feb. 26 in Beijing, U.S. representative James Kelly stated that the United States was willing to discuss measures to improve its relations with the North, including abrogating the armistice that ended the Korean War, should the North accept a complete, verifiable, irrevocable dismantlement of its nuclear program.
The armistice is the framework that currently regulates the relationship among the two Koreas and the United States in the Korean Peninsula. This framework establishes a direct military relation between the United States and North Korea while allowing the South to deal with the North only through the UN military command.
Therefore, the armistice is part of the system that supports a U.S.-led defense of Korea. Should the armistice be nullified, it would automatically transform the North-South military relations in which the two can deal with each other directly.
Whether we want it or not, this would mean that we would take the leadership of our defense while, at the same time, enter an official peacetime.
In the end, the defense system must be developed based on the Korea-U.S. mutual defense treaty with the Korea-U.S. alliance as a suprastructure and our independent command as a substructure. Now is the time for the Korean and U.S. governments to hold in-depth discussions about the future of the Korea-U.S. military alliance based on the trust and partnership built over the years.

* The writer, a retired army general, is an honorary professor at the Graduate School of North Korean Studies of Kyungnam University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Hwang Won-tak
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