[OUTLOOK]Will we have to fight in the dark?Debates on the handover of wartime operational command of Korea’s military usually skip the essential issues andare full of emotional arguments. Our country’s national security after about 2010 seems to be something to worry about. The government has been negligent in its duty to demonstrate that there is no problem in defending our country in an emergency if we regain wartime control.
But the only thing the government and the Uri Party seem to do is sneer at opponents as old-fashioned conservatives and as people promoting a Grand National Party strategy for regaining the Blue House next year. To view the handover of wartime control as a restoration of our sovereignty is a childish idea.
People who oppose the transfer should ask about every detail backing assertions that South Korea could stop a North Korean attack if a war broke out ― an attack that could be triggered, for example, by a U.S. pre-emptive strike on North Korea’s missile facilities or after the U.S. trip wire that guarantees the automatic intervention of U.S. forces is gone. The transfer means that Korea is in charge militarily, and the Combined Forces Command, joining U.S. and Korean forces, will be a thing of the past.
Opponents of the transfer include former defense ministers, retired generals, former senior diplomats and former police chiefs. They are experts on this issue. They should determine whether South Korea can recreate by 2012 at the latest the same level of military power provided today by the Combined Forces Command in budget and military technology.
They should also ask whether this military enhancement will mean enormous debts for the next generation of Koreans. They should document these points and press the government hard to get answers.
A medium-term plan to increase our national defense capabilities goes into effect next year and lasts until 2011. It includes a plan to buy four airborne warning and control systems worth 1.6 trillion won ($1.7 billion), four Aegis cruisers costing 3 trillion won and Global Hawk unmanned aircraft worth 150 billion won. The airborne warning and control systems monitor movements of enemy planes; the Global Hawk is a high-altitude aerial reconnaissance system that flies at an altitude of 20 kilometers (65,600 feet) and can monitor movements by enemies on the ground. A satellite for military purposes is also needed to monitor the entire territory of North Korea. An important part of such a satellite is its sensors, which probably will be hard to buy from the United States.
A “C4I” system is very important, almost more important than any other capability. The acronym stands for “command, control, communications, computers and intelligence.” They integrate information and operations; information about an enemy’s movements monitored by the airborne warning and control system or the Global Hawk or other systems is sent to the operational commander, who can gather all data and analyze it before giving orders to military units. It takes only a few seconds from monitoring an enemy’s vehicles to delivering orders.
An American expert on military affairs, Bruce Bechtol, says U.S. forces might take their C4I system to the U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii if wartime control is transferred to South Korea. If so, Korea’s military will be left only with command, control and communications capabilities, without computers and intelligence. That would be a torso without a brain. Mr. Bechtol compared such a military to a linebacker, a defensive player in American football who is alleged to have a huge body and a small brain.
The administration says information-sharing with Washington is a prerequisite for the transfer of control. Washington should be forced to keep that agreement; negotiations should be conducted in a sophisticated way to ensure we have U.S. satellite data and access to its C4I system.
Our negotiators, mostly former student activists, do more to irritate Washington than to represent us effectively. Their childish and emotional rhetoric about self-reliance and the restoration of sovereignty does us no good.
Regardless of whether wartime control returns, a vision for enhancing Korea’s military competence should go beyond North Korea and keep China and Japan in mind after 2020. We should have the power to defy those countries; China is expansionist and is trying to steal Korea’s ancient history, and Japan takes the road of nationalism and tries to become a military power.
The government, in particular the Blue House, should forget the fantasy of self-reliance and should show genuine interest in constructive negotiations with Washington. We need an increase in our military competence; the situation on the Korean Peninsula is unstable and fraught with danger.
* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Young-hie