Challenges for new defense head

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Challenges for new defense head

President Park Geun-hye has named Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin as head of the National Security Office at the Blue House. Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Han Min-koo will take Kim’s position as defense minister. The president made the decision 11 days after she fired former NSO chief Kim Jang-soo and former head of National Intelligence Service Nam Jae-joon to minimize the security vacuum as quickly as possible.

If the defense nominee and the new NIS chief, who is soon to be nominated, pass through the confirmation hearings at the legislature, it will mark a new diplomacy and security lineup under the Park administration. As the post of NSO head was taken by a former Army general and defense minister, the president needs to pick a candidate for NIS head from nonmilitary fields, given the military’s strong influence in the decision-making process for diplomatic and security issues in the past.

The power of the NSO head has been strengthened as he also serves as standing chairman of the National Security Council. The NSC chief coordinates with ministers of diplomacy, unification and national defense, among others, to devise measures involving security and diplomacy on a permanent basis. Kim should thus not only focus on military security because diplomacy is another crucial pillar of security.

Kim faces many challenges. East Asia is increasingly turning into a venue of conflicting interests beyond the realm of strategic partnership, as seen in the current ties between the United States and China, the intense rivalry and distrust between China and Japan, and the ongoing conflict between South Korea and Japan. Moreover, despite North Korea’s continuing military threats, Tokyo’s move to talk with Pyongyang to resolve the issue of abducted Japanese citizens makes the situation even more precarious, not to mention diplomatic issues such as deferment of the transfer of wartime operational control from Washington to Seoul, sharing of sensitive military intelligence among Seoul, Washington and Tokyo, and North Korea’s selling of fishing rights to China below the Northern Limit Line on the tense Yellow Sea maritime border.

Seoul needs to turn the tide by adopting a proactive - rather than passive - approach to Pyongyang’s provocations. New defense minister nominee Kim must learn from Brent Scowcroft and Colin Powell, retired generals who demonstrated skillful diplomacy as national security advisers.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 2, Page 30
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