The critical mismatch
The author, former deputy minister for Policy of Ministry of National Defense, is vice president of the Korea Research Institute for National Strategy.
The Moon Jae-in administration has adopted a strategy to “realize strong security through responsible national defense” to establish “peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula.” But the fundamental reason for growing concerns about national security is the discrepancy between politics and the military.
On May 3, President Moon ordered the military leadership to establish inter-Korean trust by faithfully fulfilling the Sept. 19 military agreement signed between the leaders of South and North Korea at a summit on that day last year. But the next day — and on May 9 — North Korean leader Kim Jong-un launched short-range ballistic missiles The Blue House, the ruling party, the National Intelligence Service and the Joint Chiefs of Staff were all criticized for brushing off the North’s threats. Samuel Huntington wrote in “The Soldier and the State” that a soldier needs to pay more attention to the enemy’s capability than its intention. As an intention is political and changeable by nature, it is impossible to properly evaluate it. But the Joint Chiefs of Staffs did not properly apply military perspective when assessing the threat.
Recently, former Defense Minister Song Young-moo said Kim Jong-un was “approaching a liberal democratic philosophy” and that his conventional military strength — except for nuclear and chemical weapons — was not a threat. I find that absurd coming from the first defense minister of the Moon administration. North Korea’s series of provocations — such as the sinking of our Cheonan warship, its bombing of Yeonpyeong Island, land mine provocations, nuclear tests and missile launches — are evidence that we live in a state of unstable peace. While North Korea’s capability to fight a war is poor due to economic difficulties, 70 percent of the North Korean Army and 50 percent of its Navy and Air Force maintain offensive stances south of the Pyongyang-Wonsan line. They are capable of inflicting substantial damage to us in the first few days of a war.
In this administration, basic texts — such as “National Security Strategies,” “2018 National Defense White Paper” and “Military Mental Strength Education” — do not indicate the North Korean regime and military as our enemy. They also do not state that North Korea defines the nature of revolution in South Korea as a “people’s democratic revolution for national liberation.”
Of course, North Korea is a partner in some exchange and cooperation efforts. On the other hand, however, the Kim regime and his “revolutionary forces” of the North Korean military are our enemy. Therefore, the 1991 Inter-Korean Basic Agreement defines South and North Korea as having a “special relationship tentatively formed in the course of pursuing reunification.” But why does the military — the last bastion of national security — have to give up the enemy stance?
At a 2017 National Assembly hearing, Defense Minister Song said that he would completely change our basic defense system, which has endured for decades. That was a remark beyond his authority as a cabinet member of a civilian government. He should have asked for the judgments of military leaders of Korea and the United States who are knowledgeable of the Oplan 5015 and joint defense stance.
When the Sept. 19 Inter-Korean Military Agreement was adopted last year, commanders on the front lines were not given a chance to offer their opinions. Their predominant view is that North Korea will increase the level of provocation according to a strategic game plan in the future. If North Korea makes a sudden provocation, I am worried that the field commanders will be responsible for the problem with provocation deterrence and prompt response.
Joint drills have been either suspended or downsized. Before U.S. President Donald Trump made the initial announcement, Korea and U.S. military commands should have contemplated its ramifications. I hope they are watching North Korea’s attitude and will propose a resumption of drills at the right time.
Kim Jong-un has demonstrated a determination to not give up his nuclear program. His weapons will always be proof that his talk of peace can’t be trusted. At this juncture, soldiers must strictly respect the principle of civilian rule, yet politicians must not infringe on the proper realms of the military. We should remember the lesson of history taught by Maurice Gamelin, commander in chief of the French Armed Forces during World War II. He was tried in court for treason as he was responsible for failing to deter German forces’ advance.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 30, Page 28