[CON]We need to be ready

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[CON]We need to be ready

There are lingering concerns and doubts about the U.S. transfer of wartime operational control to South Korea scheduled for Dec. 1, 2015. The government assures that the military is taking necessary steps to be fully ready to take over wartime operational control from U.S. Combined Forces Command.

The right to command a war is essential for a country’s sovereignty. But the deadline needs readjustment. The wartime operational control handover is a grave matter that can define our defense capabilities.

Our combat readiness needs to be objectively and meticulously assessed and we must honestly determine whether these problems can be fixed before Dec. 1, 2015.

In October 2005, then-President Roh Moo-hyun demanded that the country needed to assume wartime operational control in order to be a truly sovereign nation. The Defense Ministry drew up a long-term 2020 outline to prepare for the transfer. It conditioned more than an 8-percent increase in defense budget leading up to 2010 for the Korean military to be fully ready to take charge and engage in case of war on its own.

The Roh government increased defense spending annually over 8 percent. But President Lee Myung-bak negotiated with Washington to defer the handover date to Dec. 1, 2015 and his government increased defense spending around 4 percent on average per annum.

With only half of the promised spending increase, it is hard to believe the Korean military is ready to take full control in case of war on schedule. In order to meet full capacity, it needs heavy investment over the next three years, but under current economic and budgetary circumstances, that is hardly likely. The budget increase cannot simply be willed to take place.

We must be on alert at least 72 hours ahead of a possible full-fledged invasion from North Korea and 48 hours before an attack. Intelligence capabilities to read and track signs of provocations are essential. While in the military in 1990, I drew up a plan to upgrade our intelligence network as capable as the U.S. Armed Forces over the next 10 years. More than 23 years have passed and the military has not taken even half of the necessary steps. I cannot believe they will be accomplished over the next three years.

Weaponry capabilities also need to be evaluated. North Korea is equipped with nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles on top of an artillery squad across the frontline coast to reach the capital, submersible infiltration crafts and missile submarines, AN-2 Colt jets, and high-tech aircraft. It is unclear whether we can fully deter all of them. Again, three years is insufficient.

It remains questionable whether we can match and replace the command system of the U.S.-led Combined Forces that immediately can arrange and distribute wartime strategic reserves of food, fuel and ammunition to last for more than a month. Even if we have the full budget, the task is not easy. Selecting the arms prototype, negotiating prices, testing the capacity, rebuilding the forces and training them all cannot be done over the next three years.

As long as the Korean military is under the U.S.-led Combined Forces Command, I agree that the government, politicians and people would not be willing to contribute enough money to make our military capable of defending ourselves any time soon. There would be no perfect preparedness in case of war. The takeover of wartime operational control is therefore necessary. But it should take place on realistic terms and at a reasonable time.

We need to establish an independent body comprised of government, political and private experts to assess military capabilities.

We need to come up with a new plan after objective evaluation and study. Instead of relying entirely on a defense ministry outline, there needs to be a law to push ahead with the necessary preparations for handover regardless of who takes power. National security is irrecoverable once it is wrecked. We have experienced it during the colonial days under Japan. There must not be an inch of complacency and indiscretion on the security front.

Translation by Korea JoongAng Daily.

*The author is former division commander of the Defense Security Command.

by Heo Pyeong-hwan
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