Lee plans defense posture overhaul

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Lee plans defense posture overhaul


President Lee Myung-bak, center, presides over an unprecedented meeting of military commanders yesterday in the Defense Ministry. By Cho Mun-gyu

Strongly insinuating that North Korea was behind the sinking of a Navy warship, President Lee Myung-bak announced major changes in the way South Korea’s military will defend the country.

“It has now become clear that the Cheonan did not sink from a simple accident,” Lee said in an opening address at an unprecedented meeting of military commanders yesterday. “As soon as the incident happened, I realized that it was a grave international issue, that included inter-Korean relations, and made an order to the defense minister to lay bare the cause through international cooperation.”

Lee hosted the meeting of 150 commanders at the Defense Ministry, and the opening speech was broadcast live nationwide. He also announced a plan to create a presidential team to review the national security posture.

“After the cause [of the Cheonan sinking] is revealed, I will take a resolute and stern countermeasure,” Lee said. “But even before the probe outcome comes, we have an immediate task. It is a complete review of our national security posture.”

“Taking into account the peculiar situation of the world’s only divided nation amid hostilities, we must reshape our military’s capabilities,” Lee said. “We must especially check on our readiness against asymmetric capabilities, including special warfare.”

Asymmetric warfare is a strategy used by weaker adversaries against stronger ones that emphasizes small, mobile, elusive and inventive fighting methods. Nuclear weapons, missiles, chemical weapons, special operation units, cyber warfare and submarine offensives are components of asymmetric warfare, in contrast to conventional capabilities such as tanks and artillery.

The North has reinforced its asymmetric armed forces to boost its capability to launch surprise attacks and create mass destruction. The South has been working to deter such an evolution of the North’s capabilities.

Lee also said that South Korea has a strong military, but the people’s readiness and awareness of the country’s dangerous security situation have relaxed through the years.

“There were some external factors that have clouded the aim of our security awareness, and the military probably had some internal confusion,” Lee said. “The people also have forgotten the fact that long-range artillery of the most hostile forces is aimed at us from only about 50 kilometers [31 miles] away. The Cheonan’s sinking has reminded us of the reality.”

Lee’s remarks quickly fueled speculation that the country may revive the concept of “the main enemy,” and a senior Blue House official said there is a high possibility, although no final decision has been made yet.

After North Korea threatened in 1994 to turn Seoul into a “sea of fire,” the South named the North its “main enemy” in a defense white-paper in 1995. The practice, however, was halted in 2004 during the Roh Moo-hyun administration.

Urging the military to improve its contingency readiness, reporting and command systems, intelligence capabilities and discipline, Lee also said his administration will create a presidential team to check on the national security posture, crisis management system and military reforms.

According to a senior Blue House official for security affairs, the team is tentatively named the Commission for National Security Review. While some of its duties will overlap with those of the National Security Council, the main focus will be an overhaul of the military and improvement of the government’s security posture, he said.

“About 10 will be on the commission, and the members will include military experts and retired generals,” the source said.

While the commission will not be a permanent organ, Lee will appoint a special adviser for national security and reshape the crisis-monitoring center to upgrade the Blue House’s oversight of national security issues. The source said a former military official will likely become the adviser.

At the meeting, Defense Minister Kim Tae-young reported to Lee that March 26 will be remembered as a day of disgrace for the South Korean military, and the armed forces will shift their focus following the Cheonan’s sinking. “We admit that the military has been relatively vulnerable to infiltration and limited provocations, and we must redirect the focus of our capabilities,” Kim reported to Lee.
According to the ministry, monitoring and deterrence against North Korea’s submarine operation and special warfare units will be the military’s top priority, a change from the strategy of preparing for an all-out war against the North. Operations strategies in the Yellow Sea near the inter-Korean border, where the Cheonan sank, will also be improved, the ministry said.

North Korea is known to have about 100 submarines and 180,000 special warfare forces. Investments in improving sonar, radar and attack helicopters are expected to be made to counter the asymmetrical warfare of the North, the ministry said.

The ruling and opposition parties were split over the commanders’ meeting and Lee’s plan.

While the Grand Nationals said the president made the right decision to revamp the national security posture, the Democratic Party called it a political show.

“We are worried about the Lee administration’s overt attempt to politically abuse the military and exploit national security issues,” said DP spokesman Woo Sang-ho.

“The commanders were made to take responsibility for the recent incident, and we are infuriated.”

Woo said 46 sailors died but no one has taken responsibility, demanding the defense minister and others under the chain of command to be reprimanded immediately.

By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

김태영 국방부 장관이 4일 국방부에서 열린 전군주요지휘관회의에서 군사적 위협의 우선순위와 군사력 건설 방향을 전면 재조정했다. 그동안의 전면전·잠재적 위협 위주의 정보 평가와 군사력 건설을 침투·국지도발 위협을 우선하는 쪽으로 바꾸겠다는 것이다. 전면전·잠재적 위협 대처를 후순위로 삼겠다는 방침이다. 우리 군의 안보태세에 일대 변화가 불가피하게 됐다. 이에 따라 군 당국의 목표였던 ‘21세기 육군, 대양해군, 항공우주군’ 등이 북한의 위협 대처를 우선하는 쪽으로 조정될 전망이다. 미래 위협 대비 전력보다는 당장의 위협에 대처할 수 있는 실전적 전력을 먼저 확보하겠다는 것이다. 그 일환으로 군 당국은 북한의 비대칭 전력에 대한 대비책을 강화하기로 했다. 북한이 전면전보다는 특수부대를 활용한 침투 및 국지도발을 일으킬 가능성이 크다는 판단에서다.

북한은 과거 5∼7일 이내에 남한을 점령하는 전면적 전쟁계획을 서울 및 수도권을 먼저 점령한 뒤 협상하는 방식으로 바꾸었다. 그래서 최근 기계화부대를 전진 배치하고 경보병사단 등 특수부대를 증강시켰다. 특수부대는 최근 몇 년 새 10만 명에서 18만 명으로 늘렸다. 북한의 핵 및 화생무기(WMD)와 장사정포, 사이버 전력도 세계적 수준이다. 이런 비대칭 전력은 통상적인 보병·기갑·포병 전력으로는 대비가 어렵다.

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