[OUTLOOK]The meaning of self-reliance

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[OUTLOOK]The meaning of self-reliance

President Roh Moo-hyun once again expressed his desire to regain control over military operations in wartime. In a speech commemorating Korea’s Armed Forces Day on Oct. 1, the president stressed that regaining such control was one of the key elements of a “self-reliant” military, along with defense reform. While his rhetoric is legitimate, we need to consider two things. We should first ask ourselves whether regaining control of wartime military operations is indeed the standard of a self-reliant military, and we also need to consider what options we have once Korea regains control.
If a nation does not have control over the military operations of its armed forces, does that mean that the military is not self-reliant? That is not the case. Even among the member countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, U.S. generals assume the role of commander of joint forces. In peacetime, the armed forces of these countries are under the operational command systems of each individual country. But in wartime or during a comparable emergency, the forces are under the operational control of the Allied Command Europe and Allied Command Atlantic at the NATO headquarters, which are headed by U.S. generals, according to previously agreed-upon procedures.
In terms of size, the proportion of U.S. forces within NATO is not very large, but the allies recognize the initiative role of the U.S. forces in the command and control system. In 2003, NATO changed the conventional command structure and established the Allied Command Operations, and Allied Command Transformation. However, the United States continues to play the leadership role.
Do the NATO members lack a sense of self-reliance? That is not likely. They have made a strategic choice in consideration of long-term national interests and military efficiency. Knowing the background, hardly any country criticizes NATO members as being non-self-reliant just because they don’t have wartime military control.
For the very same reason, no country doubts the self-reliance of Korea, except for Pyongyang. Under the circumstances, I wonder why the president repeatedly mentions the regaining of wartime military operational control as the key element of a “self-reliant” military.
Once Korea gains wartime control over its armed forces, the existing Republic of Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command will become unnecessary or cannot be maintained. In that case, many people think of the Japanese-style parallel structure as an option for a new command system between the Korean forces and the U.S. forces stationed here. The U.S. Forces in Japan and the Japanese Self-Defense Forces have independent control over their own military forces both in peacetime and wartime. Instead, they operate liaison and cooperation agencies such as the Joint Policy Review Committee and the Mediation Commission in order to accomplish smooth joint military operations.
However, the parallel command structure between the United States and Japan is a result of the unique Japanese situation. As we all know, Japan has self-defense forces, not a military for both offensive and defensive purposes, according to its pacifist constitution. Hence, the Self-Defense Forces cannot operate in an integrated command structure with the U.S. military, which consists of regular armed forces, so they came up with a parallel structure with each force having an independent command. Therefore, even in a time of emergency, the U.S. forces lead the operation, and the Japanese Self-Defense Forces can only play the role of assisting the U.S. forces.
Korea and the United States are in a different situation than the relationship between the United States and Japan. Therefore, Seoul and Washington might refer to the parallel structure of Japan, but there is no reason to follow it. Korea has more variables to consider than Japan does. Most of all, we have to take North Korea into account.
Even if the tensions between North Korea and the United States and between the two Koreas are relieved through a peace agreement, we will have a long journey to unification. Even after unification, we have to consider North Korea, a sovereign state with a completely different system from the South, as a major variable. Moreover, there are ample reasons to expect neighborhood giants that hope to maintain influence over the Korean Peninsula, especially China, to back North Korea.
A self-reliant military and self-reliant defense are good causes. However, even self-reliance needs to be sought in the context of the survival of Korea in the course of establishing a peaceful system and achieving unification, and after unification as well as today. With the end of the Cold War, the threat of the Soviet Union has vanished. Then why did NATO’s members agree to a reinforcement of the role of the United States? It is something for Koreans to ponder.
As the U.S.-Japan alliance is maintained and strengthened, will Japan stick with the current parallel command structure with the United States after it revises its pacifist constitution and has its own military? I am not too confident to say that the answer is yes.

* The writer is a professor of political science at Sungkyunkwan University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Il-young
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