Tragedy exposed major holes

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Tragedy exposed major holes

The sinking of the Cheonan should have served as a wake-up call for President Lee Myung-bak on the vital importance of national security. The economy, Korea’s rivers, overhauling the Sejong City plan and hosting the G-20 Summit are all important. But none of them would be possible without security. If the country’s bedrock is shaken, nothing can take root. The president must know the urgent task before him: to re-establish a secure posture. It is essential he decipher the exact cause of the explosion and take stern action to address it. Even more importantly, he must fix the holes in our security so that such tragedies do not recur.

The joint civilian and military investigation team has tentatively concluded that the 1,200-ton naval corvette was sunk due to pressure from a close-range underwater explosive blast. We cannot help looking to North Korea with suspicion. The United States is also tilting toward the theory of a North Korean attack. If a North attack is confirmed, our security posture has serious holes. We were caught off guard, and the military response to the accident was incompetent. A naval warship with 104 crewmen on board was ripped in two and sank near the maritime border with North Korea, yet the defense minister and joint chiefs were unaware of the crisis for nearly an hour. The military couldn’t even agree on the exact time of the explosion.

The Board of Audit and Inspection will sniff out the reason for the confusion and the slow rescue efforts. But that is not enough. We must use this momentum to realign the entire system. If the only consequence is the firing of a few senior military officials, we cannot be certain that history won’t repeat itself. North Korea is known to have shifted strategy against South Korea from conventional war to asymmetrical terror and submarine attacks. In response, we must shift to an attack posture on the border and execute a military buildup to respond to the imminent North Korean threat. The military must be at high readiness 24 hours a day. The government should also consider reviving the National Security Council.

President Lee has taken up the role of commander in chief with little knowledge or experience in the field. He needs guidance from the country’s top experts. But watching the Cheonan crisis, we cannot but question the credibility of his national security and foreign affairs teams. The president had the presidential chief secretary on security and foreign affairs, partly responsible for the poor response, and the chief secretary on state affairs lead the emergency task force. The task force should be led by outside experts with vast experience in security so that it can advise the president frankly and boldly. The president cannot afford another hole.

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