[Viewpoint]Come watch our drills

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[Viewpoint]Come watch our drills

Pyongyang’s recent criticism and pressure on Seoul is beyond reason. I’d run out of breath just reading the list: Pyongyang unilaterally declared it would no longer respect the Northern Limit Line in the Yellow Sea; it reduced the number of South Korean workers at the Kaesong Industrial Complex; it’s preparing to launch a Taepodong-2 missile disguised as a satellite; and because of its threats security can no longer be guaranteed for civilian planes flying near its airspace. On March 9, Pyongyang called the annual Korea?United States joint military drills, Key Resolve and Foal Eagle, “exercises to attack North Korea”; and cut off military communication lines that control overland inter-Korean traffic.

Pyongyang is rushing to create a crisis in an attempt to change the Lee administration’s North Korean policy to suit its taste, spreading military tension and promoting internal discord in Korean society.

It hopes doing so will overshadow its domestic issues, which include continued economic difficulties, speculation over Kim Jong-il’s health and concerns about succession.

But the biggest motive for the North’s threats is to interfere with the exercises of the South Korean armed forces.

It is only obvious that our forces’ military readiness and joint operational capability with the U.S. would be undermined without the drills. Having been taken by surprise by the North 60 years ago without any preparation, the Republic of Korea absolutely needs these military drills and training so that such a tragedy will not be repeated.

If the North wants us to refrain from the drills because it finds military exercises threatening, then its own armed forces should not conduct any exercises either.

But, of course, the North Korean military recently carried out intense winter military training, mobilizing even its civilians.

It is unreasonable to demand that the South not conduct military drills when North Korean armed forces continue their training.

As long as armed forces exist, military training is a given. Even permanently neutral states are no exception.

Key Resolve and Foal Eagle are clearly defense-oriented drills for the following reasons.

First, the Republic of Korea has a pacifist constitution. Article 5 of the Constitution renounces “all aggressive wars.” Why would a country that prohibits itself from waging aggressive war conduct an aggressive exercise?

Second, the Republic of Korea has democratized and accomplished glorious economic prosperity through the blood and sweat of its citizens since the Korean War. Unlike North Korea, we have so much to lose if a war breaks out. Why would we ever want to start an aggressive war that could destroy our hard-earned prosperity all at once?

Third, Key Resolve and Foal Eagle are defense-oriented drills in case of an emergency on the Korean Peninsula and have been regularly conducted every year. Pyongyang has been informed in advance about the drill schedule.

If the purpose of the exercises is to attack the North, why would the South notify and invite Pyongyang to observe the exercises?

The Korea?U.S. Joint Military Command has always invited foreign military commanders to observe the drills, and none considers the exercise to have any aggressive motive.

Finally, the North Korea policy of the Lee Myung-bak administration has inherited the idea of “unification as a national community” and pursues reconciliation and cooperation, peaceful coexistence and gradual unification.

Such a government has no reason to conduct aggressive training for a war. Therefore, it is only responding to Pyongyang’s unreasonable provocations over these annual joint military drills that focus on defense.

In fact, Pyongyang knows all too well that the drills are defense-oriented. North Korea should stop its overblown threats and display a more sincere commitment to peace on the Korean Peninsula.

In order to fundamentally resolve the military tension and confrontation on the peninsula, we need a drastic policy change.

Pyongyang should come out for dialogue to establish military trust, as the South and the North had agreed to do in 1992.

I would suggest that Pyongyang accept the invitation and observe the Korea?U.S. joint military exercises to establish basic military trust.

Pyongyang needs to acknowledge that the armed forces of the Republic of Korea are strong, ready and capable of defending the country from any aggressive provocation. I advise Pyongyang to stop the stale tactic of creating tension by threatening to respond with “merciless military action” or “drastic retribution and retaliation.”


The writer, a former chairman of the National Emergency Planning Commission, is a visiting professor at Inha University. Translation by the JoongAng Ilbo staff.

by Ahn Kwang-chan
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