[Viewpoint] Military cooperation is necessary

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[Viewpoint] Military cooperation is necessary

The plan to remove stars from license plates of generals’ cars was overturned by the argument that it would deal a blow to military dignity. A small symbolic gesture to break authoritative military formalities was resisted by the generals.

Authority has the power to move subordinates to comply. But such power is best when subordinates agree with the cause. A general’s authority does not depend on the number of stars on his car license plate. It depends on the appreciation for their ability and public respect. The fiasco connotes the uphill battle in reforming the military.

Rigidity in the military was evident in the recent reshuffle. The Joint Chiefs of Staff snatched operational command from a Navy admiral to give it back to an Army general in the December appointments. The admiral spearheaded the operational command for just five months after a hasty reshuffle in response to public criticism over the JCS’s handling of the Cheonan sinking and calls for increased authority for the Navy.

The key JCS posts of operational command, military assistance and strategic planning, which are headed by those with the rank of lieutenant general, are dominated by Army officers. Except for the rotating post of deputy chairman and head of military education, all key JCS posts have been traditionally reserved for Army generals. The logic is that the Army is the most capable in directing command, but this undermines the concept of joint forces command.

The importance of unified command had been underscored by the Cheonan attack. The JCS struggled throughout, from the initial reports of the attack to the final assessment, which disappointed the public and damaged the reputation of the military. There are no Navy commanders and experts on the joint command and little no progress has been made in this regard. Instead the Army, Navy and Air Force are engaged in bureaucratic warfare ahead of the reinstatement of the Joint Command Headquarters.

All military reforms since the Roh Tae-woo administration in the late 1980s have focused on the integration of combat forces and closer cooperation among the different military branches. The unified command aims to consolidate and make the best use of ground, sea and air forces to maximize fighting capabilities.

It was the British that first stressed the necessity of combined operations. In a navy-headed war with Argentina in 1982 over the disputed Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic, the warship Sheffield was struck and destroyed by Argentine jet fighters. The British forces have since then run on a single supreme command system.

The United States came a little later in late 1980s to emphasize unified command. The rescue mission of hostages in Iran in 1980 failed because of miscommunication among the different service branches. Interbranch rivalry ended with the crash of a navy helicopter and an air force transport aircraft during the rescue mission. Similar problem occurred in the Grenada invasion in 1983 when an army helicopter could not land on the ships because of opposition by the navy.

The U.S. Congress in 1986 passed the Goldwater-Nichols Act to enhance the powers of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The United States Joint Forces Command was established in 1999, replacing the United States Atlantic Command. During the Gulf War in 2003, the Central Command assumed unified command with the subordinate service commands ready to respond to their orders. The assault campaign backed by close cooperation among the ground, air and sea forces led to the complete occupation of Iraq in just three weeks.

Modern warfare depends on the interoperability of the army, navy and air forces. Such capabilities cannot take place unless the three service branches receive equal attention and investments. But here in Korea, the Ministry of National Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff are dominated by Army officials. Such disproportionate influence has resulted in poor responses to North Korean provocations. The law on command sets guidelines on the distribution of staff posts among the three services within the Defense Ministry and the JCS.

But our country’s military remains the same as ever, dominated by the Army. Each branch must keep in mind their common goal of safeguarding national security. They must overcome interservice rivalry and concentrate on the common goal of advancing military capabilities.

*The writer is a professor at the Hallym Institute of Advanced International Studies.

By Koo Bon-hak
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