[OUTLOOK]Wait until time is right for transferThe sizzling summer heat is nearing its end and autumn is coming in. Just like the change of seasons, there is a time for everything. There is a time to plant and a time to harvest. There is a time to work and a time to rest. Missing the right timing means losing all. This is the same with a business. In the era of digital cameras, if a businessman starts to invest in making high-quality film, he definitely does not know the right timing. To choose the right timing is the essence of every decision. Only the wise can see when the time is right.
This applies equally to a country. There is a time for peace and a time for war. It is stupid to mobilize people in preparation for war when the tide has turned to peace. It is also stupid to tell people it is safe when a war is about to break out. During peacetime, leaders of a country should try to find ways to focus on industry. Facing war, the leaders should make the people prepare their weapons. In the Joseon Dynasty, high officials were sharply divided into factions and busy fighting, oblivious to the Seven-Year War that was soon to break out. Korea was invaded by Japan because the leaders of the Joseon Dynasty were insensitive about timing.
The issue over wartime operational command is also a matter of timing. There is no question that an independent country should exercise command over its military. If some people think of it as a matter of sovereignty, so be it. In this sense, President Roh Moo-hyun’s remark is not utterly wrong.
But we should ask why we formed the Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command and left this body to share operational control. There must be some reason. It is to maximize military capabilities through efficiently using the military of the two countries.
However, as time passed, things have changed. Korea has already taken exclusive peacetime operational command. As for wartime operational command, former President Roh Tae-woo pledged to retake the command and the negotiations for that actually took place. Transferring wartime control is not a new idea initiated by President Roh, although he shouts for self-reliance as if he has earned a patent for that.
As the Korean Peninsula was in danger due to North Korea’s nuclear weapons developments in 1994, the Korean government decided to leave wartime control to the commander of the combined forces command because that was the most efficient way.
The debate over wartime control should not be focused on ideologies, such as pro-Americanism versus anti-Americanism, or self-reliance versus an alliance. These topics were already discussed 10 years ago. We should instead debate whether the time is ripe for Korea to exclusively exercise wartime command. However, this is not a matter for the people to decide. People simply do not know about our military’s capabilities. It is the job of elite military experts to decide the matter. Thus, it is a wrong idea to hold a people’s referendum on the issue. Former defense ministers opposed the transfer of wartime control, saying its time has not yet come. They know what they are talking about.
If President Roh wants to exercise wartime control, he should show that our military is capable enough to exercise wartime control on its own. He also should be able to answer the question of how to defend the country from the North’s nuclear threat when the U.S. military takes a supportive role. It is not good enough to say such remarks as “a budget increase for national defense will make it possible to exercise wartime control in a couple of years.” These remarks only make people feel insecure. The president should show how to find the financial resources for the budget increase as well. From now on, the debate over wartime control should be focused on the timing of the transfer, not on whether we take it back or not.
There are things that we need to be careful about in order to figure out the right timing. We should not do things out of impulse. Nothing good can come out if we decide to do certain things only because we feel bad, or hate someone or feel offended. We should be cool-headed. It is a virtue to be patient when patience is needed. If you do something impulsively in order to get a higher hand, you are unlikely to gain from it. We should think about our capacities and act accordingly.
This issue is about the destiny of our country. To make the right decision, we should be modest. If we have the illusion that we are better than we actually are, we cannot discover when the time is right. If we reflect on how our country has developed this far, we will then be able to verify the right timing. If we remain persistent and obstinate we can never see when the time is right.
* The writer is the chief editor of the editorial page of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Moon Chang-keuk