[VIEWPOINT]Korea needs its own deep-sea navyWhile North Korea’s development of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction poses enormous threats to our
security interests, we often overlook potential dangers to our maritime security concerns from neighboring states.
South Korea sits on the tip of a peninsula surrounded by the sea in three directions. This requires us to take care of enormous maritime areas many times more extensive than our territorial land mass, either as territorial waters, exclusive economic zones or other contiguous zones and sea lanes of communication. Some security specialists argue that East Asia is rife with adolescent states and, thus, various maritime disputes still exist. The intermittent controversies over Dokdo and Ieodo will continue to give rise to emotional nationalistic repercussions domestically without long-term preparedness. Meanwhile, Japan will set up a government agency exclusively responsible for maritime affairs and allocate a huge budget to it. China has lately announced a plan to drastically expand its naval power. Ancient Korea was founded by mounted tribes that occupied a vast land in Manchuria. This makes us lax in retrieving the history of ancient Korea, which administered the three seas under its jurisdiction.
China’s “Northeast Process,” which will come to a close this February, has sparked irredentist sentiments in South Korea.
TV dramas such as “Yeongaesomun,” “Jumong” and“Daejoyeong” have become more popular than ever. No one can deny the nostalgic dreams of the average Korean about the flamboyant history of his or her ancestors in Manchuria. But it is less difficult to regain lost seas than lost land. Expanding our influence over thousands of nautical miles on the sea is easier than recovering a square inch of land north of the demilitarized zone.
It is well documented that Jang Bogo governed the sea lanes between the Far East and the Middle East, with Cheonghaejin as his base during the Silla dynasty. But it is little known that Heukchi Sangji founded a colony of the Baekje dynasty in Southeast China and utilized the Yellow Sea as Baekje’s inland sea.
Our ancient maritime history is no less lustrous than our continental history.
The Navy’s plan to build a base at Hwasun Port on Jeju Island has been met with strong objections by environmental activists. The Navy’s attempt to switch to an alternate location on the same island was dashed, lacking full support from residents.
The present plan to take over wartime command and control authority over South Korean armed forces from the Combined Forces Command between 2009 and 2012 is heavily focused on the army. This entails continued dependence on U.S. air and naval forces, both in wartime and peacetime operations. With a view to enlarging the scope of our own command and control, and coming near to a so-called independent defense, we will soon need our own air force and bluewater navy.
Traditionally, military facilities have been welcomed by the neighborhood as incentives for local development. It is deplorable, however, that the U.S. forces headquarters’ relocation plan has been met with so much trouble at Daechu-ri.
Naval facilities are environment-friendly because the navy protects the base from pollution. With Hwasun determined to be the optimum location for a new naval base, it is highly desirable that the government persuade the neighborhood and environmentalists to consent to the construction of a base there. Of course, this will be a tough uphill battle, fighting the “notin- my-backyard” behavior. As the world’s largest shipbuilding nation, however, South Korea now needs to start building its own blue-water navy for the protection of everincreasing maritime interests.
*The writer is a distinguished professor in diplomacy at the Graduate School of International Studies, Yonsei University
by Kim Jae-bum