Restoring military mightSouth Korea’s military is in a grave crisis. With the growing reconciliatory mood between the two Koreas, its readiness for emergencies has weakened.
The chain of command has been shaken to the point that the defense minister and leaders of the Defense Security Command are engaged in a public brawl. North Korea has refrained from military provocations since summits with the South Korean and U.S. presidents, but that does not mean the threat is gone.
July 27 marked the 65th year of the signing of the armistice that ended fighting in the Korean War, and that serves as a reminder that Koreans bear the bitter historical lesson of how hard it is to rebuild a security system once it breaks down.
President Moon Jae-in on Friday called military commanders and high-ranking officials into the Blue House to remind them of their grave responsibility of ensuring the Korean people’s peace and safety. He urged the military to reform in order to better respond to present and future threats. Inter-Korean relations have improved for the goal of denuclearization, but the process remains shaky.
The outline to reform the military announced on the same day proposes upgrading surveillance capacity and automating strategic weapons in line with the fourth industrial revolution. The army will be emboldened with drones and software for armored vehicles. The military will also prepare a three-axis system backed by a Kill Chain pre-emptive strike system, Korean Air and Missile Defense system and Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation plan to ensure South Korea’s capacity to fend off a North Korean attack without outside help since South Korea is set to regain wartime command control from the United States in 2022.
Still, Seoul appears to be moving ahead of Pyongyang, which has been dragging its feet on denuclearization. The South Korean military is poised to remove guard posts from the demilitarized zone even though North Korea has doubled the number of theirs. The government has also been moving too fast toward a peace treaty that undermines the presence of the United Nations and U.S. forces in Korea.
The military must quickly restore disciplinary order. Defense Minister Song Young-moo bluntly criticized the military in a National Assembly hearing, while the Defense Security Command chief outright challenged his capabilities. The fissures raises concern about laxness in the military.
Sexual harassment scandals are also evidence of poor discipline, and not only that, the government is planning to shorten conscription periods and reduce the number of soldiers to 500,000 by 2022 from a current 620,000.
That plan requires more able and concentrated forces. The military must prove itself as a reliable army of the people by carrying out rigorous restructuring.
JoongAng Sunday, July 28, Page 34