Knowing enemies from alliesWe are shocked at the 2018 National Defense White Paper released by the Ministry of National Defense Tuesday. The ministry deleted the phrase defining the North Korean Army as our main enemy. The revised white paper broadly defined our enemy as “those forces which threaten or infringe on the sovereignty of the Republic of Korea, its people and properties.” That’s a sharp contrast with the 2016 National Defense White Paper, which clearly described the North Korean regime and military as our enemy.
The new white paper made the concept of our military’s main enemy very blurry. No doubt the denuclearization negotiations with North Korea and improvement of inter-Korean relations are important issues for South Korea. Nevertheless, the North’s massive military power — including its weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) like nuclear and chemical weapons — still pose a serious threat to the security of our nation.
The new white paper also downplayed the North’s nuclear threats. On Monday, the U.S. Forces in Japan (USFJ) made public that North Korea possesses more than 15 nuclear warheads. Security experts anticipate that the number of its nuclear weapons will increase to 100 by 2020. But the white paper simply mentioned that North Korea has 50 kilograms (110 pounds) of plutonium and a considerable amount of highly enriched uranium that can be used to produce nuclear weapons, adding that the North’s ability to make nuclear weapons smaller has reached a remarkable level. We cannot dispel the impression that the ministry tried to downplay the North’s nuclear capabilities.
Can our Defense Ministry really cope with the North with such a lax attitude? Defense analysts are increasingly raising the possibility that U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un could wrap up denuclearization talks by simply removing the North’s intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), which pose a direct security threat to the United States. In that case, North Korea’s short- and intermediate-range nuclear missiles can still threaten our security.
The ministry’s attitude toward Japan is also a problem. In the past, the white paper discussed Japan before China. This time it reversed the order. In the past, it said, “South Korea and Japan share the basic values of free democracy and market economy.” This time, it simply called Japan “a close neighbor geographically and culturally.” It is time for our military to distinguish enemy from ally and prepare for a crisis on the Korean Peninsula rather than adhering to political interests at home.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 16, Page 30