New top brass

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New top brass

A navy general has been nominated as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the first time in Korea’s military history. The top military post has long been dominated by Army generals, except in the case of Lee Yang-ho, a four-star Air Force general, who was picked as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1993 and later served as minister of defense. At the time, however, the power of the top military position was quite limited because Korean forces didn’t have peace time operational control, not to mention wartime operational control. (Wartime operational control is scheduled to be transferred to Korea from the United States in 2015.)

If confirmed, the new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Choi Yoon-hee, a former Navy chief of staff, can wield much stronger power over all aspects of our armed forces when he takes office.

After the government’s surprising decision to choose a Navy general as the chairman, the Navy is in a predictably festive mood. But Choi’s nomination carries a great significance given the long-standing frictions between the Army, Navy and Air Force stemming from the overwhelming dominance of the Army over the other two branches in the size of its budget and number of troops, as well as in the share of promotions and administrative authority. In fact, the competitive rivalry was the biggest reason for past administrations’ failure to reinvent the military to enhance cooperation, or “inter-operability,” among the three branches.

The Ministry of National Defense cited “strengthened cooperation between the three branches and their unification” as the reasons for promoting Choi to the highest post. It also emphasized that Choi can fully carry out his duty as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff given the probability that North Korea will increasingly engage in military provocations around the tense Northern Limit Line in the Yellow Sea, the Navy’s domain. Some military analysts attribute his appointment to complex political calculations by the Park Geun-hye administration.

Other experts point out that Choi has not established an outstanding record in military operations during his career. They wonder if he can successfully cope with an emergency situation when an actual attack or battle occurs. In order to prove the effectiveness of his appointment, not only his staff officers dispatched from the Army, Navy and Air Force but also the new leaders of each branch, including the Marine Corps, must support and assist him to the best of their abilities.

Choi reportedly has a strong talent for communication. We hope he makes a remarkable turning point in the history of our military by maximizing that talent to achieve a harmonious development of the Army, Navy and Air Force.
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