Protecting what has become the South Korean way of lifeWhile President Roh Moo-hyun has been outspoken about developing independent defense capabilities for South Korea, Seoul’s military budget has barely increased. As a result, certain weapons acquisition programs are seeing questionable compromises stemming from a restricted budget. A prime example lies in South Korea’s pursuit of an air defense system.
The Roh administration has been trying to acquire surface-to-air missiles through a misguided acquisition program, which looks to purchase second-hand PAC-2s from Germany, primarily because they are cheaper.
PAC-2s were initially used during the 1991 Gulf War. Many analysts say they were an unspeakable failure. Nowadays, instead of targeting missiles, PAC-2s are primarily used to target aircraft. Indeed, with a lower price comes great sacrifice.
In the latest war in Iraq, an improved missile produced by Lockheed Martin, the PAC-3, was used to target Iraqi missiles and other airborne objects. Its performance was reportedly more than satisfactory.
However, there exist two arguments in Korea against the PAC-3 systems. The first is the obvious ― the cost, which is more than double that of the PAC-2s.
Second, and more importantly, is the political implications of acquiring PAC-3s, which would make South Korea a part of the U.S.-led theater missile defense system and strengthen the U.S.-R.O.K. alliance. Unfortunately, South Korea’s left-wing, which governs the country today, worries that might irritate China, South Korea’s largest trading partner.
In the coming decades, however, South Korea has more to defend than its economy. If the opinions of Southeast Asian pro-democracy groups are any indication, South Korea is gradually establishing itself as East Asia’s role model in terms of its democratic achievements. After decades of bloodshed, South Korea has become what is arguably the most advanced democracy in Asia.
The question for the future, however, is can South Korea defend its democratic achievements? In other words, in the midst of China’s expanding economic and military influence throughout East Asia, can South Korea maintain its advances as part of the so-called “free world?”
The answers to these questions may determine South Korea’s future role in the region, especially if “soft power” is the game South Korea intends to play.
South Korea’s tools of “soft power,” be it the way of life or modern culture, are attractive to many Southeast Asians, and many of them are migrating to work in South Korea for a better life, or what has become the South Korean way of life.
Do South Koreans wish to preserve this? Acquisition of the PAC-3 system may provide a partial answer.
by Mingi Hyun