Learning from the lost years
In early 2006, meetings to get back wartime operational control from the United States were held almost every day in the Blue House’s underground bunker during the Roh Moo-hyun administration. The justification for these meetings was to ensure a self-reliant national defense. As the transfer could affect national security, the administration expanded the defense budget and supplemented it with military modernization. This was how the plan for the transfer of wartime operational control was revealed to the public. Defense Minister Kim Jang-soo, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Kim Kwan-jin and Han Min-koo, the policy planning director for the Defense Ministry, were the key members of the national defense policy discussion.
On Oct. 23, 2014, Minister of National Defense Han Min-gu was at the Pentagon signing the document to postpone the transfer to the mid-2020s. He later met with reporters and once again emphasized that the future of the Korea-U.S. alliance and the joint defense had been re-established. He argued that postponing the transfer was inevitable as Pyongyang continues to pose a threat and young leader Kim Jong-un’s judgment is unpredictable.
What happened in the last eight years? Kim served as defense minister and is now the Blue House national security director. Kim Jang-soo, formerly the defense minister, served as the first national security director of the Park Geun-hye administration. Those who worked hard to get back wartime operational control are now toiling to postpone the transfer with the opposite logic. It is truly ironic.
A member of a think tank dealing with U.S. defense policy said that the negotiation for wartime operational control between Korea and the United States took time because Washington could not trust Korean politics. The U.S. point of view is understandable. Those who advocated an early transfer are now working to postpone it as the administration has changed. How can Washington be persuaded to reverse a negotiation outcome between states by explaining the nature of a five-year single-term presidency and confrontation between progressive and conservative administrations?
We need to learn what can happen when politics contaminate foreign policy and security. A mistake must not be repeated. And the military must change. While wartime operational control transfer has been delayed from December 2015 to the mid-2020s, what efforts have the military made? Rather than reinforcing strength through modernizing armaments, military authorities have been busy dealing with controversies within, such as the Private Yun case. The Kill Chain and Korea Air and Missile Defense require 17 trillion won ($16.23 billion). It would cost over 70 trillion won for 10 years, including purchases of Aegis cruisers and fighter jets. We don’t have time to waste. The government, the National Assembly and the military need to work together and draft thorough plans and strategies. We have already lost a valuable eight years, and we can’t waste any more time over the internal fight between self-reliance and security.
The author is a political and international news writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 27, Page 29
By JEONG YONG-SOO