Moon meets veteran leaders
At a Blue House luncheon attended by heads of military organizations like the Korean Veterans Association, Korea Retired Generals & Admirals Association and the Korea-U.S. Alliance Foundation, Moon tried to allay concerns coming from critics that his government’s policies were reducing the country’s military preparedness amid a series of recent mishaps like the undetected defection of North Korean sailors through the eastern coast.
His remarks are believed to be specifically addressing a conservative group consisting of retired top military officers who filed a request to the Constitutional Court last month asking it to revoke the government’s military agreement with North Korea which was signed on Sept. 19.
The group, whose name translates to “a union of retired general officers in defense of Korea,” consists of around 750 former military leaders who have actively spoken out against the agreement. They believe that the creation of a no-fly zone in parts of the demilitarized zone and the cessation of military exercises on parts of the western coast, both of which are conditions included in the military agreement, constitute a breakdown in the security posture of the South Korean military.
In his opening address to the guests, Moon said he felt “responsibility as the commander in chief of the country’s armed forces” for a recent string of events that have raised public alarm over the military’s discipline, but that the government would be strongly responding to these incidents with the defense minister and Joint Chiefs of Staff at the helm.
“A strong defense is the driving force behind building peace,” he continued. “The government will be pursuing Defense Reform 2.0 without delay to create an explosive security capacity befitting of a rapidly changing security environment.”
An information pamphlet distributed to attendees of the event by the Blue House showed the government’s defense spending had increased 8.2 percent this year, double the increases from any of the past eight years. Defense Reform 2.0, announced by the Moon administration in July last year, is an ambitious attempt to revamp the country’s armed forces that includes the implementation of cutting-edge information technology.
A key component of the reform includes the eventual transfer of wartime operational control, or Opcon, from the United States to South Korea. The allies agreed to conduct combined exercises starting this August under the direction of a South Korean general to gauge Seoul’s initial operational capability as a first test for an eventual transfer. Yet the Opcon transferal, which could entail a redefinition of the mandate of the U.S. forces in Korea, remains a perennial controversy, with some arguing it would weaken the U.S.-Korea alliance.
To this, the president said that his belief in the alliance remained firm, and nodded when some guests said that Opcon transfer should follow a flexible schedule and be completed only when the conditions are optimal.
With regard to the September military agreement with Pyongyang, Moon explained the agreement was building on peacebuilding from earlier summits with North Korea and that it helped reduce military tensions on the border.
Kim Jin-ho, chairman of the Korean Veterans Association, also stressed the importance of the pact as one in which “North Korea has effectively given up military provocations” by inking its agreement to a clause which forgoes mutual military aggression. Kim further expressed his regret that certain retired officers did not support the agreement, adding that it was part of a process towards denuclearization whose purpose even Robert Abrams, the commander of the U.S. Forces Korea, had agreed to.
BY SHIM KYU-SEOK, LEE KEUN-PYUNG [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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