Revamping our warfare strategyIn an interview with the JoongAng Sunday, Lee Sang-woo - the former president of Hallym University and an ardent supporter of defense reform - raised the alarm about South Korea’s ability to protect itself from its neighbor to the north.
“The South Korean military may be more advanced in its arms system than its North Korean counterpart, but it cannot beat North Korea because it lags in the areas of strategy, training and operation planning,” he said. His harsh criticism comes after he served last year as the chairman of the presidential committee on defense reform. He recalled that he was appalled by the state of readiness on Yeonpyeong Island when he visited the island in July, just four months before North Korea shelled it.
The Cheonan naval ship was the victim of a thoroughly organized attack by North Korea in March last year. Yet the South Korean military failed to learn and change after that incident, allowing a much more significant attack on Yeonpyeong that led to civilian deaths.
In January of last year, North Korea fired 400 artillery shells toward the southern waters of the disputed maritime border of the Northern Limit Line in the Yellow Sea. The South Korean Navy warned that it would fire back in retaliation if any of the North Korean artillery shells fell on the southern side. A dozen did indeed land in southern waters in another incident in August, but South Korea did not respond. Navy officials later said that radar failed to detect exactly where the shells fell. The North used a certain type of artillery that launches shells in a low trajectory in that attack, while using a different type that launches shells in a high trajectory in the Yeonpyeong incident - a strategy meant to confuse the South.
Our military, however, is blind to its strategic weakness as well as the strength of its enemy. It should have known that the frontline islands could become the next target for the North. But the military leadership took no action to reinforce defense systems on the islands. After the military failed to detect the firing of artillery from North Korea in August, it should have examined and fixed the problem. However, when Yeonpyeong Island came under attack in November, our artillery radar did not function well again. North Korea may have arms from the old Soviet days, but its war strategy is sophisticated, whereas ours is the opposite. It is time for the commander in chief to exercise his leadership in paving the way for reforms in our defense system.