No prevarication on defense bill

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No prevarication on defense bill

Korea celebrates its 63rd Armed Forces Day today at the Army’s Kyeryongdae military headquarters and various other sites. The red-letter day was established in 1956 to mark the day that the South Korean Army broke through the 38th parallel in 1950 at the start of the Korean War. While traditionally an eventful occasion, it has become more limited to military and public officials since the HQ was relocated to Kyeryongdae.

It no longer seems to hold special significance for the public, despite the importance of the military in the lives of the South Korean people given the persistent threat from the North and the ongoing reality of compulsory military service.

Soldiers and their families feel disappointed at the diminished public interest. But at the same time, it demonstrates that the military no longer wields such power over the populace as was the case during previous military regimes. The armed forces should now be content with their role as defenders of the Korean people and territory.

Our soldiers have been praised by their foreign counterparts for their service in overseas peacekeeping operations. Many U.S. commanders who have served in Korea also gave a positive assessment of advanced, well-skilled and well-equipped forces. But such an evaluation mostly concerns individual troops rather than the real war-engagement capabilities of the overall forces.

But maybe today is not the day to question our defense capacity, as the military is preparing for a complete makeover by carrying out sweeping reforms this year, including realigning the leadership structure to optimize the collaboration of ground, sea and air operations and combat capacity. Leadership and operational reforms took place in the U.S., Germany and other advanced countries long ago, and Korea finally embarked on such changes after it was hit by surprise attacks from the North on the naval ship Cheonan and Yeonpyeong Island last year.

But belated defense reform bills have been sitting idly in the National Assembly since June and the defense committee has not explained why it has not once convened a meeting to deliberate them. Seoul is supposed to be fully equipped to plan and carry out a war independently by 2015 when the U.S. returns the operational control of all forces if such a need arises. There is no time to lose. President Lee must call for the quick ratification of the reforms to safeguard our sovereignty.
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