The author is a columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Anyone can foresee the outcome of a fight between a heavyweight fighter and a featherweight. However, the result will be entirely different if the lighter and smaller fighter is armed. This is an example of so-called asymmetric warfare, exemplified by a smaller power having nuclear weapons. The two Koreas qualify for this description.
Yet Hong Hyun-ik, the new chancellor of the Korea National Diplomatic Academy (KNDA), claimed he found no need for the continuation of joint South Korea-U.S. military drills. (He is the head of the state institution that researches foreign affairs strategy and grooms diplomats.) In an interview with KBS TV on Aug. 5, Hong argued that South Korea’s traditional military power cannot be matched with North Korea’s since the size of the North’s economy is only one 53th of South Korea’s and the South has spent 10 times more than the North in defense expenditure over the last 10 years.
Hong is a veteran in international affairs, having studied the field for more than 40 years. Since the keystone of the South Korea-U.S. alliance is the nuclear umbrella, conducting a military exercise to prepare for a local war may not be necessary when the peace process on the Korean Peninsula is active, he argued.
Local media highlighted his remarks that joint drills are no longer necessary, leaving out his condition of “under a peace process.” Hong appeared on the radio three times to explain himself. But he made another slip of the tongue out of over-eagerness. If North Korea provokes, we should respond with drills for a “decapitation strike, preemptive attack and invasion,” stressed Hong. Media reported how he had suddenly changed his position to a hard-line stance.
Roughly speaking, Hong thinks the South Korea-U.S. joint drill should be scaled back but if North Korea provokes, South Korea must respond immediately with drills for a decapitation strike and other types of aggression.
But it is very hard to tell where he exactly stands — whether he is dovish or hawkish towards North Korea. If he is really pacifist, he should not have mouthed words North Korea abhors, such as “decapitation.” If he is militant, he should not have proposed a cancellation of the joint military exercise.
So I searched what Hong wrote in the past. He urged Seoul to teach Pyongyang lessons “through harsh sanctions for challenging South Korea’s national security.” In 2016, he argued our military should have the “capabilities to completely destroy Pyongyang” and “kill North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and his family in a short period of time.” Given his past comments, he surely fits in the hard-line category. How Hong has been recruited as head of the diplomatic academy under the Moon Jae-in administration, which is bent on engaging Pyongyang, is bewildering
Some media speculated about Hong’s relationship with a certain presidential candidate from the ruling Democratic Party (DP). Regardless of how he has come to head the academy, he must show consistency and conviction as a scholar. We already have too many scholars who surrendered their academic conscience to win favor with the DP.
The 2003 Iraq War, often called America’s biggest shame, was the result of feeding U.S. President George W. Bush with information he wanted to hear. Bush ordered the war on Iraq base on the intelligence that its leader Saddam Hussein had been engaged in developing weapons of mass destruction. But no evidence of that was ever found. A former agent of the Central Intelligence Agency said in a memoir that the spy agency only reported to Bush the information he wanted to hear. Due to misguided information, Bush remains the most unpopular president along with Donald Trump among 14 U.S. presidents since World War II.
Too many people have been given important government posts in the Moon administration because of personal relationships rather than their expertise or any kind of conviction. We cannot know what harm’s way the country could head into if presidential leadership is surrounded by aides and advisors who primarily wish to please the boss.