New rules of engagement, please

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New rules of engagement, please

North Korea’s latest attack at Yeonpyeong Island can never be considered an accident or fluke. It is the obvious conclusion of the enemy’s continuous military buildup in the tense Yellow Sea border area as a result of its crushing defeats by South Korea in battles in 1998 and 2002. Buoyed by its enhanced might, it sparked another sea battle last November and conducted a large-scale artillery firing drill aimed at five islands in the area, finally sinking one of our naval warships last March. Its boldness is a pure reflection of its determination never to be defeated again as it was in the second sea battle at Yeonpyeong.

North Korea has reportedly been strengthening its fire power through scores of rockets and a 1,000-strong artillery force, as well as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and ground-to-air and ground-to-sea missiles, all stationed along the west coast near the Northern Limit Line it has long attempted to nullify.

Our problem is our weak counteraction. Considering the volatility of the area, our military has been ordered to respond to provocations by the North according to rules of engagement that have been in effect since 1953, when the United Nations Command drew the NLL as the sea border. These rules primarily dictate that we can retaliate against an attack but not to the point of expanding a skirmish into a war.

However, it’s become evident that we cannot thwart the North’s aggression merely by following the rules of engagement. The rules are based on the principle that we respond to an attack in proportion to its size. By taking advantage of that restriction, the North has hampered our efforts to effectively cope with provocations.

Yesterday, President Lee Myung-bak ordered the military to augment its firepower in the area. Still, that fell way short of our expectations because it is time for us to review the ways our military has been dealing with provocations. Simply put, we should scrap the old rules of engagement and draw up a more active and aggressive rule, just like OPLAN 5027, which mandates that we counterattack in a massive way at an early stage of aggression and annihilate the enemy.

We should have a similar plan when it comes to a regional battle. Assuming that the North will continue to engage in more massive provocations, we must be able to pre-empt any belligerent moves by raising our capability to terminate any provocation from the start. Without such a resolution, this mess will be repeated again and again.

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