It’s the lawmakers’ turnConflict over national defense reform appears to be getting out of control. Major newspapers are plastered with advertisements by former chiefs of staff with the Air Force and Navy as well as powerful civic groups who oppose the government’s plan to restructure the upper chain of command. They argue that defense reform will endanger our security. They said they don’t oppose reform by itself but are against the idea of establishing a new combined headquarters.
Whether their argument is right or wrong, we are concerned that the dispute has reached such an overheated level. As the reform plan contains very professional arguments, opinions about it will naturally vary. But it is inappropriate for some retired members of the top brass to attempt to drive public opinion in such a way and that can only help create nervousness among ordinary civilians.
Defense reform has been pushed as a result of North Korea’s most recent military attacks: the Cheonan sinking and the North’s shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in the tense western sea border last November. A need to reconfigure the topmost structure of our armed forces became obvious after we pondered our military’s lethargic and sometimes incompetent response to the North’s attacks.
As a result, a national defense advancement committee established by the Blue House came up with a reform plan and handed it to the Ministry of National Defense, which crafted a bill that it submitted to the National Assembly. In other words, the bill is the result of a detailed, one-year discussion.
Disagreements over the bill were first heard in March from the Defense Ministry. Many retired generals from the Navy and Air Force joined the opposing camp, focusing their criticism on changing the chain of command in a time of genuine conflict. After that, the Defense Ministry held several public debates to gather the varying opinions of retired generals. Now that the bill awaits a full debate at the National Assembly, discord over the plan is intensifying rather than subsiding.
The National Assembly’s defense committee members, armed with expertise in defense issues, must proceed with the bill quickly by gathering diverse views from experts inside and outside the armed forces. Lawmakers can revise the bill if decisive flaws are found. In any case, however, they should not walk away from the government’s effort at needed reform. We hope our veteran generals will join the debate in a calm manner instead of behaving over-emotionally.