Admiral grilled by Assembly body
Admiral Choi Yun-hee was named last month to lead the country’s military, and would be the first Navy chief to chair the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a post that has to date always been filled by Army officers. His appointment requires the National Assembly’s approval; the ruling and opposition parties yesterday examined Choi’s breadth of experience, especially in commanding the Army and the Air Force in responding to a North Korean provocation.
Other issues, including the latest development in the North’s nuclear arms program and Korea’s efforts to postpone its takeover of wartime operational control of its troops from the United States, were also addressed.
At the Assembly’s National Defense Committee, which is conducting the confirmation hearing before a floor vote on his nomination, Choi vowed to bolster Korea’s defense capabilities to counter the North’s missile and nuclear programs. He also said that Pyongyang had made some progress in miniaturizing its nuclear warheads, basing his comments on what he said was the latest intelligence about the reclusive regime’s activities.
The 59-year-old admiral said the Korea-U.S. alliance would be the first way to deter the North’s use of its nuclear arsenal. “If there is still an imminent danger, we will launch a pre-emptive strike with our ‘kill chain’ to disable the North’s attack plan,” Choi said. “We should also have the capability to counter the North by establishing a Korean air and missile defense system if the North still tries to use its nuclear power.”
Choi also vowed to retaliate against any North Korean provocation without hesitation. “I will strike the origin of the attack as well as command and control and supporting forces,” he said.
Representative Han Ki-ho of the Saenuri Party asked about Choi’s assessment of the North’s war scenario, in which it projected an end to war operations within three days. Choi scoffed at the idea. “Taking into account our readiness, based on the Korea-U.S. alliance, the scenario is not feasible,” he said.
Choi also countered lawmakers’ criticism that he lacked expertise in military operations planning. Choi graduated from the Naval Academy in 1977 and has served in the Navy since then. In October 2011 he was named the Navy Chief of Staff.
After Park nominated him to chair the Joint Chiefs of Staff, concerns proliferated about his lack of experience in Army operations. The lawmakers noted that any war on the Korean Peninsula would involve many ground battles; Choi promised to improve his understanding of Army operations. He also assured the committee that his experience while heading the Navy had given him a wealth of operational planning experience.
At the hearing, Choi was also criticized for having played golf at sensitive times in the relationship between the two Koreas. According to Representative Jin Sung-joon of the Democratic Party, Choi has played golf 248 times over the past five years, an average of once every week. He was criticized for having played golf during several tense times in North-South Korean relations, once weekly on average during the last five years.
Under attack for that alleged “lack of discipline,” Choi told the committee yesterday that he would refrain from playing golf from then on.
BY SER MYO-JA [firstname.lastname@example.org]