[OUTLOOK]Don’t cancel American assistanceThe entire country is in chaos over the government’s plan to take back wartime operational control over its military from the United States. As this is an important matter, every sector needs to think about it seriously. As an economist, I would like to use economic theories to view this issue.
National defense is a core public commodity that a country offers, along with public order and peace. Economic liberals claim that a smaller government is better, but they agree that a country must offer quality services for national defense and public order.
What is wartime operational control as a part of national defense? In economic terms, it is defined as a contingent commodity. This means the commodity is effective in a special situation, such as when a war breaks out. This is the same as insurance for cancer only being useful when the holder has cancer.
Peacetime operational control is not a contingent commodity, but a regular commodity, related to services of national defense that are normally offered and consumed. There is no question that a country should exercise peacetime control of its forces. This is like healthy people taking care of their bodies to maintain their health the way they want.
However, a person might get a disease or have an accident even though he or she is careful. Thus, healthy people are also recommended to buy many different types of insurance. This feels like wasting money but might prevent the person from going bankrupt over an unfortunate accident. When a person becomes ill or is injured, it is stupid to pridefully say, “This is my body so I will take care of it my way.” The best resolution is to have a dependable insurance company and a hospital.
In this respect, one should prepare oneself meticulously in order to to take charge of wartime operational control, which is in many ways different from peacetime control. Some countries do not think seriously about wartime control. Switzerland, a small and neutral country, is a good example. If the chance to get involved in a war is zero percent, there is no need to talk about wartime control.
However, nobody will claim that on the Korean Peninsula, the odds of a war breaking out are zero percent. In the medium- and long-term, northeast Asia is insecure, as powerful neighboring countries like Japan and China intend to claim larger territories and compete against each other over hegemony. The Korean Peninsula is quite insecure because North Korean leaders pursue a military-first policy and are obsessed with nuclear development programs.
Therefore, good wartime operational control is needed. Let’s take a look at the current wartime operational control. In a nutshell, it can be said that South Korea has insurance against war from an insurance company called the United States. First, the conditions of this insurance are unbelievably good for us. If a war broke out, the United States would go beyond compensating money that we lost, the job regular insurance companies do. The world’s strongest military power is automatically engaged to fight with us. This is the same as having subsidiary troops guaranteed.
The insurance fee is also very low, particularly compared with the unreasonable amount of money that the South Korean government says we need to use to have sufficient military competence for the independence of our military.
Finally, it can be said we have additional insurance to deter a war. Buying insurance against cancer does not prevent cancer from developing. But the current wartime control makes North Korea know clearly that it would be the end if it did something stupid, so it has the effect of deterring a war.
Lately, Korea Life Insurance and Samsung Life have stopped selling insurance that solely covers cancer, stating that they will likely have to pay out too much money to policyholders. The United States has long stopped selling the insurance program that it sold to South Korea to other countries. Although serving as an international police force is an honorable job, the possible costs in lives and money are too high. In both cases, only existing holders are entitled to benefit from the programs.
Let’s say one wants to cancel an insurance program on cancer because the person does not like Samsung’s management. Then what would the company think of the policy holder? The company will only welcome the decision because the company has nothing to lose.
The Korean War prompted South Korea to buy an unusual insurance policy against further wars. Looking at the current situation on the Korean Peninsula, this insurance is still useful.
People feel insecure because the government wants to cancel this insurance. We should keep this as a special product that helps prevent North Korea from provocative acts and enhances security on the Korean Peninsula.
North Korean leaders resorted to nuclear development as a means to protect their regime and the South Korean administration places people’s livelihoods in jeopardy because it lacks a sense of reality. This reminds me of what Bill Clinton said as a presidential candidate ― “It’s the economy, stupid.”
* The writer is a professor of economics at Chung-Ang University. Translation by JoongAng Daily staff.
by Ahn Kook-shin