Why so quiet?Controversy is arising fast over the Ministry of National Defense’s decision to downscale its planned ceremony to announce the introduction of a fleet of F-35As — multiple stealth fighters and the mainstay of our Air Force’s next generation fighter jets. The ceremony is scheduled to be held on Mar. 28 in the U.S. F-35As are the core component of the “Kill Chain” — our military’s pre-emptive strike system designed to target North Korean missile sites at times of imminent threat — as well as a cutting-edge strategic asset to protect our airspace against China and Japan, which have already deployed stealth fighters.
In the beginning, our government prepared to stage the ceremony in a big way by sending our Air Force Chief of Staff and head of the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) to the event. However, as the inter-Korean dialogue is rapidly gaining momentum after North Korea’s participation in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, the Moon Jae-in administration downsized the planned ceremony. The Defense Ministry plans to send deputy chief of the air staff and a senior official at the DAPA instead. The ministry also canceled a plan to bring the press to the event.
The military said that it decided to leave the Air Force chief in the country after considering President Moon’s upcoming trip overseas. That’s a sheer excuse. When the president embarks on tours to foreign countries, the responsibility for national security falls on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In a nutshell, our military does not want to provoke North Korea ahead of an inter-Korean summit in April and another one between North Korea and the United States later.
The military’s attitude also applies to the ongoing Cobra Gold, the largest Asia-Pacific joint military exercise held in Thailand every year. It often brags about their participation in the drill, but this year, the military did not release even a photo.
The delayed annual Key Resolve and Foal Eagle joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States also are likely to proceed quietly next month. In the past, the Defense Ministry was busy promoting the drills, but it is now saying, “The drill will be carried out at the usual level.”
The Moon administration does not want to lose the momentum for dialogue with North Korea. But the government’s weird excuses should be criticized. If the government simply begs for public understanding, it will invite not only public outrage over the administration keeping an overly low profile, but also internal division.
JoongAng Ilbo, March 19, Page 30