Military misconductAfter reviewing the details of the tragic Cheonan sinking, the Board of Audit and Inspection cited “unpreparedness and negligence” as the biggest problems of the military leadership. In its investigation, the board discovered that the ROK Joint Chiefs of Staff, Navy Operation Command and Second Fleet Command all expected that North Korea would launch a submarine or submersible attack in waters around Baengnyeong Island in the wake of an earlier clash with North Korea in the Yellow Sea last November.
Yet the Second Fleet headquarters did not strengthen its anti-submarine capabilities when deploying the corvette Cheonan, which was ill-equipped to cope with a submarine attack. And up until a few days before the sinking, the Second Fleet had still not taken any steps in that direction, even after receiving information on suspicious movements of North Korean submersibles.
However, that was just the tip of the iceberg. The Second Fleet was slow in reporting the sinking to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Joint Chiefs then distorted the content of the report, including the timing of the sinking, in its reporting to the Defense Ministry and the media. As a result, the Ministry of National Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff failed to alert the military to assume a combat-ready posture. In addition, the Defense Ministry was rebuked for escalating suspicion and chaos by concealing the footage from a thermal imaging device on board the ship to justify its earlier announcement on the sinking. The ministry also leaked military secrets in the process of distributing press releases to the media. The military’s actions could thus be classified as colossal mismanagement. In its report, the BAI recommended that the Defense Ministry punish 25 top officials, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. To reinstate discipline, the ministry should reshuffle the military leadership. Otherwise, it would be impossible for the military to regain the public’s trust.
But there are lingering doubts about the military’s ability to prevent another disaster. And we wonder if disciplinary action alone will be enough to correct the behavior of a military that could predict such a situation yet neglect their duty to handle it.
We must deal with the conflicts among the Army, Navy and Air Force as well as the extreme lapses in discipline that have been revealed. President Lee Myung-bak should take steps toward revamping the military.
The goal of all this is to focus attention on the calamity of the Cheonan sinking. Above all, it is imperative that we are able to immediately and efficiently counter North Korea should it launch another attack.