[OUTLOOK]Creating a 21st-century defense

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[OUTLOOK]Creating a 21st-century defense

The Korean Navy’s fourth destroyer, called the “Wanggeon-ham,” has had its launching ceremony. Let’s take a look at the modern history of our navy first. Emperor Gojong of the Joseon Dynasty bought from Japan the first Korean warship, the “Yangmu-ho,” which arrived at Incheon port on April 16, 1903.
But the Yangmu-ho, which was actually a second hand cargo ship with an old cannon attached, never really played the role of the navy’s first warship. In the end, it was resold to Japan as a cargo ship in 1909, and sank to the bottom of the sea in 1916 while transporting steel and minerals to Singapore.
In contrast to the tragic fate of the Yangmu-ho, Japan had, during the Sino-Japanese war in 1904, a total of 152 warships, including six world-class battleships and six armored cruisers. But its naval force did not have a single world-class battleship when the Sino-Japanese war broke out in 1894. The Japanese Navy continued to increase the number of battleships in the midst of an intense world competition to build up naval forces. At the disarmament conference held in Washington in 1921, Japan was acknowledged as having the world’s third-ranking naval force, following the United Kingdom and the United States.
In December 2003, Japan announced a “New Defense Plan Outline” that showed the trend of its military buildup to 2015. The groundwork of the new defense plan was laid out in the “Report on the National Security and Defense Force Hearings” that was prepared by the Japanese prime minister’s office.
Araki Hiroshi, president of the Tokyo Electric Power Co., who presided over the hearings, wrote in the preface of the report that throughout the 13 rounds of hearings, the words of Vice Admiral Shigeyoshi Inoue lingered in his mind. The Japanese military command presented a major expansion plan for the navy that demanded the construction of large-scale battleships with big cannons, just before the Pacific war in 1941.
But Mr. Inoue criticized the request, saying that the military funding of the Showa era (1932-1988) should not be handled with the mindset of the Meiji era (1882-1911). He stressed the importance of strengthening the navy’s aircraft carrier capabilities. Mr. Araki points out that contemplating Japanese defense of the 21st century with an Inoue mindset, linking hard power with soft power, is most important.
The world military order is also changing at a fast pace, as the world has gone through the rapid changes of the post-Cold War era and the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks on the United States. In the recent Defense Department report “Facing the Future,” the United States effectively demonstrates how its transformation strategy, which can be summarized as the two axes of network and information, is being carefully prepared and carried out. In its “2004 Defense White Paper,” China reveals its unique military reform plan for building a strong society, which is the fundamental national goal. Japan stresses a multi-functional flexible defense capability in its “New Defense Plan Outline.”
With an eye on the plan to legislate a military reform bill in October, debates on military reform have also been activated in Korea, too. What do we have to start with, if we want to promote a unique military reform plan, without repeating the tragic history of the Yangmu-ho and taking into account the Japanese admiral’s criticism of an old-fashioned military expansion plan?
First, we have to foresee the politics of Northeast Asia and the world that we will experience in the first half of the 21st century through 21st- century eyes. Then we have to draw a proper blueprint to provide a foundation for a national consensus. The most important point here is the 21st- century mindset. The tragedies of Korea’s modern history prevent the country’s liberals from getting rid of their 20th-century views. The debate on military reform for the 21st century has to start with the transformation theory of the 21st century, apart from the “cooperative independence defense theory” of the 19th and 20th centuries.
The military reform plan of 21st- century Korea should be prepared with the proper understanding of the unique situation Korea is in: a divided, semi-developed country surrounded by superpowers. Although the whole world has put Cold War history behind it, the Korean Peninsula still remains a place of the Cold War.
With a new experiment in the history of civilization called the European Union, European countries are slowly overcoming the age of competition. However, Northeast Asian countries that are new to the modern competitive order still have a long way to go before they can search for a solution like that of the European countries.
The main character, stage and content of the 21st-century world security and order are completely different from those of the 20th century. Korea’s military reform plan has to deal with these three problems at the same time. It has to include more complex content than the reform proposal of any other country in the world. Korea needs the insight and determination to properly understand the meaning of time and place in 21st-century Korea, and make a policy based on it.

* The writer is a professor of international relations at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Ha Young-sun
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