[Viewpoint] Defense reform plan won’t work

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[Viewpoint] Defense reform plan won’t work

The Korean military has many problems. Firearm accidents often occur. Military supplies such as boots, parachutes and body armor are defective. Fighter planes crash intermittently, tank’s gun barrels rupture and amphibian tanks sink. Also, self-propelled artillery broke down when the North Korean army shelled Yeonpyeong Island last year.

Nevertheless, the Ministry of National Defense is, under the justification of reorganizing the Joint Chiefs of Staff, interested in changing the command structure of the military, instead of tightening discipline and taking reform measures that sever deep-rooted military-industrial collusion.

The Defense Reform 307 Plan submitted in June is pending in the National Assembly, amid strong opposition from the Navy, the Air Force, retired generals and the opposition. The Navy and the Air Force suspect that the plan aims to change the military structure to an Army-dominated joint force. The ministry claims that the Navy and the Air Force should be free from pressure from retired generals and stop its self-centered thinking.

And the Blue House warns that opposition to the 307 plan by active-duty officers would be treated as disobedience of orders. However, what is urgent for the Korean Army is severing the corrupt ties of military-industrial collusion and tighten discipline among soldiers, not reorganizing the Joint Chiefs.

Samsung Group Chairman Lee Kun-hee took steps to end corruption. After the shelling on Yeonpyeong Island, the Defense Acquisition Program Administration inspected the K9 howitzers that broke down when the island was attacked and found defective parts in the engine manufactured by Samsung Techwin. Chairman Lee condemned the situation, saying “The clean image of Samsung Group is tarnished by the scandal. We must root out corruption.” The head of Samsung Techwin resigned and an overall inspection of the group is underway.

It is unusual for Samsung to make public the result of an internal investigation admitting that there were irregularities within its organization, and to disclose that Chairman Lee ordered to “eradicate the root of corruption within Samsung Group.” The measures taken by Samsung will, however, have the effect of severing the corrupt ties between Samsung’s subsidiary and its subcontractors. The ties of collusion above that level are out of reach of the group. The higher the level of corruption goes, it gets bigger and more deeply rooted and gets more closely related to the power. The military-industrial collusion will be eradicated only if those in power decide to do so.

In a press interview on Sunday, Noh Dae-lae, director of the Defense Acquisition Program Administration, said the administration would increase the suspension period for military supply contractors if they supply defective products. At a time when Samsung launched a thorough investigation of its subsidiary and took the extraordinary measure of severing corruption ties, it is a pity that the head of the government agency in charge of the defense acquisition program that spends more than 10 trillion won ($9.45 billion) in tax money each year is only thinking about punishing minor military supply contractors.

Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin issued an order to the armed forces on Sunday. All commanding officers above the rank of brigadier general are ordered to root out wrongdoing in the troops under their command, establish countermeasures, if there is any, and report by the end of August. The ministry will hold a debate on military life on the basis of the reports.

At a time when the lives of four innocent soldiers were sacrificed due to loose management of firearms, it sounds hollow that the minister asks commanding officers to report on irregularities and produce plans to cope with them. It is doubtful that military commanders will file a report on irregularities as they are. If the content of the reports are not substantive, the debate will not bear any fruit. The minister’s order, “establish countermeasures and report them by the end of August,” represents a typical bureaucratic way of thinking. With such thinking, it is difficult to achieve defense reform.

It is not likely that the 307 plan will pass the National Assembly in August, as the government expects. Even in the ruling party, the opinion is gaining strength that it is not desirable to change the command structure at a time when the North braces to build a so-called “strong and prosperous country” by 2012, and when we have to concentrate all our efforts to prepare for the transfer of wartime operational command in 2015.

Most retired generals do not agree that the Joint Chiefs of Staff failed to punish the North because it could not exercise its military command effectively, after the North torpedoed the Cheonan, which it denies doing, and bombarded Yeonpyeong Island. Rather, many people are suspicious of why the 307 plan emerged after the incidents. As the issue related to them is whether the supreme commander of the armed forces made the right decision at the right time, they suspect that the reform plan is to show that the president was not responsible for the decisions made during the incidents.

The title of the plan, 307, which refers to the date it was reported to the president, deepens the suspicion, too. The error in judgment made by the supreme commander of the armed forces, if there was any, cannot be erased even if the military structure is changed. If the reform plan opposed by the Navy and the Air Force is enforced, it will only weaken our war potential. Under the circumstances, it is better to make the best use of the present military structure.

*The writer is a visiting professor of communication at Sejong University.

By Park Sung-soo
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