The lawmaker doth protestRep. Kim Jong-dae of the Justice Party condemned the secret military agreement that Kim Tae-young, the defense minister under President Lee Myung-bak, signed with the United Arab Emirates in 2009 to win a nuclear power plant project. The lawmaker held the former defense minister accountable for using the military as a bargaining chip for economic gain.
If Minister Kim were an incumbent official, he would deserve impeachment, the lawmaker said. He argued that Kim violated Article 60 of the Constitution, which requires the National Assembly’s approval to deploy troops overseas.
It is sophistry that sounds convincing at first glance. The zero-sum logic that the Lee administration would sacrifice defense for the economy might instigate the public, but in fact, the outcome of the deal was a positive sum. Korea enjoyed gains in both economics and the military. Representative Kim’s argument is just a serious assertion of something that did not happen.
A nuclear power plant project is beyond the simple calculation of interests in a market. Exports require all the geopolitical capabilities of an entire country. The package deal, tailor-made to satisfy the importer, was not a sin. It was a creative and integral act to benefit the nation.
During the process of exporting nuclear power plant technology in 2009, Minister Kim signed four memoranda of understanding with the United Arab Emirates. Based on military trust between the two countries, the National Assembly passed a bill in December 2010 to approve the Korean military’s dispatch of troops to the Middle Eastern country to support its military education and training.
On Jan. 11, 2011, 130 soldiers from Korea’s Special Forces were dispatched to the United Arab Emirates. Fifteen days after the deployment, Somali pirates hijacked Samho Jewelry, a chemical tanker operated by Capt. Seok Hae-kyun. If it had not been for the fraternity between Korea and the United Arab Emirates, as symbolized by the Akh Unit, Korea would have suffered a serious crisis.
Although Korea successfully carried out Operation Dawn of Gulf of Aden to save all the hostages, it faced the challenge of speedily sending five pirates captured during the operation to Seoul. For Korea to send an Air Force plane or civilian flight, it needed to obtain permission from nine countries to fly over their territorial airspace and five or six countries to allow them to stop and refuel.
The Emirates’ royal family resolved this complicated issue. Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, gladly offered the royal family’s private jet to help Korea, citing the two countries’ brotherly ties. Ten soldiers from the Akh Unit boarded the plane to watch over the captured pirates.
The operation to escort the pirates from the Port of Salalah in Oman did not come free. It was possible thanks to the two countries’ strong relationship built over the course of negotiating a nuclear reactor construction deal and military cooperation agreement.
Thus, Representative Kim’s argument is totally wrong. The United Arab Emirates actually helped Korea when support was urgently needed. The lawmaker turned a blind eye to this and criticized Minister Kim as if he committed treason. This is a wrongful accusation.
The crown prince was probably shocked when the new administration under President Moon Jae-in abruptly tried to change the military agreement, citing the domestic goal of “rooting out past evils.” He reportedly mentioned cutting ties with Korea to express his rage.
It was no wonder that Im Jong-seok, Moon’s chief of staff, hurriedly met with the crown prince to offer an apology and President Moon had to invite Khaldoon Khalifa Al Mubarak, an influential adviser of the royal family, to win his support, saying, “We must love each other passionately since the two countries are like a married couple.”
The Moon administration and his supporters must learn the lesson that a nation will continue even though an administration has changed. If they are obsessed with unrealistic idealism and ignore the truth — just as Representative Kim did — they will face the criticism that shallow knowledge really is a dangerous thing.
Representative Kim must stop his extremely unrealistic and idealistic arguments. Last year, he accused Dr. Lee Cook-jong of infringing on the rights of his patient, a North Korean soldier who defected across the border, by briefing the public on the existence of parasites inside the patient’s body discovered during a surgery.
Kim argued that Lee seriously violated Article 19 of the Medical Service Act and that his failure to keep doctor-patient confidentiality was “an act of terrorism.” To prove that he did not violate the law, Lee had to consume more energy on defending his honor than treating the soldier.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 15, Page 30
*The author is a columnist at the JoongAng Ilbo.