Communication first, pleaseThe Ministry of National Defense has stressed that from now on it will concentrate on improving the joint operation capability of the Army, Navy and Air Force, which became recognized as a big Achilles’ heel after North Korea destroyed our Cheonan warship in waters near the western sea border last March. In its new “Defense Reform Plan 307,” the Defense Ministry came up with a wide range of initiatives to aggressively reshape the military, including ways to protect the nation from the North’s ever-growing threats including its massive reinforcement of special forces, the asymmetrical threats from nuclear weapons and missiles, its persistent provocations over the legitimacy of the Northern Limit Line as well as its frequent cyberattacks on the South. The ministry also announced a maximization of our military capability and a steep reduction in the number of generals as its main priorities.
No doubt they are essential tasks for our military to deal with to achieve a sufficient level of deterrence and to secure a national defense capability befitting the 21st century. Without raising the joint-operability of the three different branches, we can hardly expect a successful transformation of our armed forces into a top-quality military. We hope the military will ardently push ahead with the reform package to get back the trust it lost a year ago.
In fact, our military attempted to bolster its joint-operability by streamlining the command structure under the Roh Tae-woo administration 20 years ago through its touted 8/18 Plan. However, the plan almost failed when there was political backlash against the idea of the military being commanded by a single commander. Enduring competition among the Army, Navy and Air Force helped scuttle the ambitious plan. The result was the Cheonan debacle, which was caused primarily by the complicated chain of command.
The ministry suggested strengthening the role of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and merging military academies. If implemented effectively, the plan could succeed. Such institutional reform however, must be accompanied by aggressive efforts to minimize the enmity among high-ranking officers of the three military branches. As most of the resources and privileges go to the Army, which has the most troops, the branches have lots of conflicts, which sometimes results in a fatal lack of communication among them. Under the circumstances, they can never function as a fully unified and integrated military at a time of crisis.