[VIEWPOINT]Wartime control is like pearls on a pigAlthough malbok, the hottest day according to the 24 traditional divisions of the season, and ipchu, the day that heralds the arrival of autumn, are past us, the temperature still hovers above 30 degrees Celsius (86 F). In the midst of such hot weather, the hot debate over whether to pursue the early transfer of wartime control of South Korean troops from Washington has heated up the whole nation even further.
Actually, the debate on the transfer of wartime control started a long time ago. In the latter half of the 1980s, the leadership of the left-leaning student movement shifted from the popular democracy (PD) faction, which emphasized anti-monopoly market practices and class liberation as its guidelines,a to the national liberation (NL) faction, which insisted on a struggle against imperialism and pursuit of independence until the end.
Since then, one of the two issues that students claimed as evidence that South Korea was a military colony of the United States was the issue of wartime control of South Korean troops.
The other was the U.S. forces stationed in South Korea. Actually, they are the two faces of one problem. The issue of wartime control of South Korean troops is nothing else but a fuse that will lead to the withdrawal of U.S. forces in Korea, or, at least, make them less powerful.
Therefore, people who believe that wartime control should be transferred to South Korea in view of the nation’s independence do not listen to the practical problems, such as the timing of the transfer and the enormous costs involved.
President Roh Moo-hyun is such a person. Mr. Roh linked the wartime control issue directly with the nation’s independence. The logic that if South Korea has wartime control of its troops, it is an independent country and, if not, it is a dependent country, overwhelms him.
It is true that there were discussions about the wartime control issue during the governments of former Presidents Roh Tae-woo and Kim Young-sam.
But the discussions at that time were the result of changes in circumstances. First, the reason the issue was discussed in 1990 was that the Roh Tae-woo administration, which struggled to transform itself into a civilian government from a military-backed one, tried to show it had truly changed by borrowing an issue raised by student activists.
It also coincided with the interests of the United States, which faced the potential burden of having two wars at one time, one on the Korean Peninsula and the other in the Middle East.
After that, the Kim Young-sam administration made a political decision that, to strengthen its image as the first civilian government, the transfer of wartime control, together with the eradication of Hanahoe, a clique of high-ranking people within the military, would mark the second birth of the military.
However, the Roh Moo-hyun administration is raising the issue with a completely different background.
While former Presidents’, Roh and Kim, understandings of wartime control were based on the political situations at the time, current President Roh’s is like a philosophical belief. By the way, it is also true that the strong beliefs of today’s Mr. Roh are difficult to judge, as his convictions differ from case to case.
It is even more so because he repeatedly emphasizes “independence” whenever the wartime control issue breaks out, although he initiated the negotiations for a South Korea-U.S. free trade agreement.
Maybe Mr. Roh considers wartime control to be a fine symbol of an independent country.
As one cannot live a rich man’s life only by wearing fine clothing bought with borrowed money, a country cannot be an “independent country” only by exercising wartime control single-handedly, as if wartime control, which would probably cost more than 300 trillion won ($314 billion), were the symbol of an “independent” country without any consideration of the increasing national debt.
We have to look into the reality, where the wartime control of such advanced countries as the United Kingdom and Germany is in the hands of the commander of NATO’s forces.
Moreover, as there are persons who do not look any better in high-fashion clothes, like a pearl necklace hanging on a pig’s neck, the wartime control, if not supported by the capability to perform national defense independently, will be no different from a finely dressed swine.
What is the use of exercising wartime control independently if we have no ability to detect the movements of the enemy and no combat ability? That is nothing but bogus wartime control.
As it is more reasonable to transform oneself into a decent person who manages to live a dignified life, rather than spending profusely on fashionable clothes with borrowed money, it will never be too late for South Korea to discuss the transfer of the wartime control after acquiring the ability to defend ourselves, instead of wasting money blindly in the cause of “independence” in name only.
The president’s reconsideration of his position on the issue is urged.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Chung Jin-hong