Beware the security vacuum

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Beware the security vacuum

The national security command chain is crucial during the governmental transition. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un visited an artillery unit involved in the 2010 shelling of Yeonpyeong Island and praised the attack - a day after Park Geun-hye was sworn in as president of the South. Kim recently reinstated Kim Yong-chol, the orchestrator of the Yeonpyeong bombardment and the Cheonan attack, as a general.

But in the South, the delayed appointment of a senior presidential secretary on national security is creating a serious security vacuum. President Park nominated former Defense Minister Kim Jang-soo as head of the new National Security Office, which is now a minister-level position. But he can only begin to serve in his new role after the government reorganization plan is passed by the National Assembly. Yet Kim received the authority to control the underground War Room at the Blue House from Ahn Kwang-chan, head of the Office for National Crisis Management, a vice ministerial-level post, a day before Park’s inauguration. After the inauguration, Kim accompanied President Park to major events at the Blue House.

But Kim’s actions not only exceed his power but are legally ineffective because he’s technically still a civilian, not a government official. Park should have taken legal measures to avert this mishap, including temporarily appointing Kim head of the current Office for National Crisis Management and then appointing him head of the new National Security Office after the government revamp proposal is passed. If that didn’t work, she should have let Ahn, the current head of the crisis management office, remain at his post until Kim can begin his new role at the Blue House. Park should have paid heed to the legal aspects of her new administration.

Also, the confirmation hearing schedule for defense minister nominee Kim Byung-kwan is yet to be fixed, not to mention the dilly-dallying surrounding the nomination of the new head of the National Intelligence Service. Fortunately, Kim Kwan-jin and Won Sei-hoon, defense minister and NIS head during the Lee Myung-bak administration, are still in their positions. However, any power vacuum can cause serious loopholes in national security.

President Park has not even presided over a first cabinet meeting. She expressed concern about the unfilled national security posts due to the critical delay in the passing of the reorganization bill. Most of the responsibility for the legislative logjam should be borne by Park herself, as she neglected to take proper action - and by an opposition camp still bent on knee-jerk opposition to her decisions.

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