Let military decideDefense Minister Kim Jang-soo was included in President Roh Moo-hyun’s entourage to the inter-Korean summit meeting in early October. The South Korean government officially said the inclusion of Defense Minister Kim in the entourage has nothing to do with the Northern Limit Line issue, but is rather to discuss peace on the Korean Peninsula in a comprehensive way.
After a reporter pointed out it is inappropriate for the defense minister to visit North Korea, Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung said the most important value in an inter-Korean summit meeting is the face-to-face meetings. His remark seems to imply the meeting of the top defense officials of the two Koreas might lead to some improvements in the defense field.
This sounds plausible. But looking inside the matter, it is either suspicious or empty. South and North Korea have little shared trust in military matters. North Korea has 70 percent of its ground armed forces stationed below Pyongyang and Wonsan, and that hasn’t changed. South and North Korea have had disputes for years over testing trains on railways that connect the two. Military authorities in the two Koreas have a communication line, and it is the only way to build trust. South and North Korea are deepening the conflict between themselves over the NLL issue.
Under these circumstances, the South Korean defense minister’s visit to North Korea is unlikely to produce a breakthrough. There are only two ways to improve inter-Korean relations in the military field. One is to have working-level consultations and reach agreements, starting from something that can be easily implemented. These can include agreements to let each other watch military drills or the setting up of a direct phone line. The other is North Korea’s entire abolition of nuclear weapons. When one party possesses nuclear weapons, there is no way to build trust in military affairs. As for the NLL issue, North Korea is likely to demand that the border on the Yellow Sea be reset. Kim’s visit raises suspicions that he will agree to the demand.
Another problem is that the commander-in-chief and the chiefs of defense and intelligence will leave the country at the same time.
Military officials opposed Kim’s visit to North Korea for those reasons, but the Blue House reportedly pushed ahead. The Blue House must stop trying to mislead the people with vague explanations, saying there is a need to discuss peace on the Korean Peninsula. It must also re-examine Kim’s visit to North Korea. It must leave the military to decide its own affairs.