Top brass says Moon's gov't let them down
Five top military leaders from the Moon Jae-in administration are supporting opposition candidate Yoon Suk-yeol, saying Moon's administration politicized the military, weakened the alliance with the United States and attempted to remove the United Nations Command (UNC) that oversees the Korean War armistice.
In a joint interview with the JoongAng Ilbo, the five retired generals said they are supporting People Power Party (PPP) candidate Yoon to make turn things around.
The five military leaders are former Army Chief of Staff Kim Yong-woo; former Air Force Chief of Staff Lee Wang-keun; former Navy Chief of Staff Shim Seung-seop; and former Deputy Commander of the Koera-U.S. Combined Forces Command (CFC) Choi Byung-hyuk. The four four-star generals were handpicked by Moon to those top posts.
The fifth is retired Lieutenant General Jun Jin-goo, former commander of the Marine Corps. He took up that post on April 13, 2017, shortly before Moon took office.
In the interview with the JoongAng Ilbo Friday, Kim rejected the idea that they joined the Yoon campaign to win prestigious jobs.
"They [the Moon administration and ruling party] must seriously think about why the soldiers, particularly high-ranking generals from the Moon administration, are turning against them," Kim said. "It is because they do not respect the military as a group of professional experts."
The generals said the Moon administration tried to put the military under their surveillance and control.
Kim criticized the DP and the Moon administration for violating the military's political neutrality. "The military should serve the country and the people," he said. "It shouldn't be treated as a military of a particular political party and administration. The current administration forced selective loyalty from the military, as if it were the party's military."
Kim, Lee, Shim and Choi said they were grateful that Moon named them to top posts, but insisted their promotions were not based on personal favors but a legitimate process.
Kim said soldiers must not be penalized for having served in key posts in a previous administration. "Soldiers are loyal to an administration because it is elected by the people, but when the administration is changed, they face demotions and disadvantages," Kim said. "That will create a split inside the military and politicize the military."
Lee, who headed the Air Force from August 2017 through April 2019, deplored the weakening of the Korea-U.S. alliance after the Moon administration scaled down joint military exercises to placate North Korea.
"The United States wanted frequent joint drills to improve readiness, but we were forced to reduce the exercises," Lee said. "The U.S. troops, therefore, headed to the U.S. mainland to exercise on their own in order to make up for the shortage of drills. The slogan of the alliance is 'We go together,' but I wonder if we can go together."
Jun, former head of the Marine Corps, said the alliance has significantly deteriorated over the past five years. "We used to hold 15 to 20 joint exercises annually," he said. "So, one or two U.S. Marine battalions were always in Korea. But after joint exercises were reduced, the roots of the alliance were largely shaken. The United States no longer trusts us."
He added that marine commanders from the two countries had shared field information and strategies, but such consultations ended after the two Koreas signed a military agreement on Sept. 19, 2018.
Choi, former deputy commander of the Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command (CFC), said politicians intentionally misled the public to think that Korea has no military sovereignty because the United States has wartime operational control over the Korean troops.
"The CFC operates under the command and control of the two countries' joint chiefs of staff, defense ministries and presidents," he said. "Each country has a 50-percent stake if it was compared to a business corporation.
"Politicians know this very well, but insulted the military by saying that top generals are begging the United States to keep operational control," he said. "To obtain the key capabilities to regain the wartime operational control, we need a long time. The handover should be made after we are fully capable, but the Moon administration said it wanted the handover to take place first."
He said American military leaders told him privately that they were concerned. "Now, the North Korean nuclear program is so advanced that the advanced weapons and military command and control system that had been agreed between Seoul and Washington are not enough to handle it. That is why Burwell Bell, former commander of the combined forces command, says that the handover is dangerous."
In the interview, the military leaders said the Moon Blue House tried to weaken the power and role of the UNC, which oversees the Korean War armistice, because they see it as the biggest obstacle to an end-of-war declaration.
Choi, who served as deputy commander of the CFC from April 2019 through September 2020, said the Blue House overtly complained in a meeting in December 2019 that the UNC was trying to expand the scope of operation. "They tried to weaken the UNC, because it stopped the government from assisting the Kaesong Industrial Complex," he said.
He also said a UNC source told him that the Blue House made a failed attempt to remove the United States from the management of the Joint Security Area at the inter-Korean border and arrange for the two Koreas to control the area directly.
DP politicians and Moon allies have consistently argued that the UNC must be dismantled. "The UNC has no legitimacy. It must be controlled so that it won't intervene in inter-Korean relations," DP Chairman Song Young-gil said in August 2020, when he was the chairman of the National Assembly's Foreign and Unification Committee.
Other Moon aides including former Presidential Chief of Staff Im Jong-seok also argued for it to be dismantled.
"It was not a few people's opinions," Choi said. "It was the Blue House's approach toward the UNC in general."
Dismantlement of the UNC has long been a goal of North Korea. At a UN meeting last October, North Korean Ambassador to the UN Kim Song argued that the United States had established the UNC unlawfully. "The United Nations must not be abused under the justification of peacekeeping to realize its evil political and military purpose," he said.
Choi also said in the interview that the Blue House forced the early relocation of the U.S. military facilities in Yongsan, central Seoul, to Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi, without proper preparation. "Dragon Hill Lodge was an accommodation for U.S. government officials when they visit here, but the government just rushed to relocate it without securing the budget to create an alternate facility," he said. "They probably wanted to show off a political achievement before the [April 2020 legislative] election."
The military leaders said they have faith in Yoon's national security policy, including his controversial remarks that a preemptive strike on the North is possible.
"Yoon made it public to contrast the current administration's powerlessness toward the North," said Shim. "The president is the commander in chief of the military, and he can talk about a preemptive strike. It is intended to deter any threat to the nation's stability. If the commander in chief cannot talk about it, who can?"
The former generals said they want their successors' tenures guaranteed by law in order to strengthen the military leadership's capabilities and political neutrality. They also said they will work to resume suspended field exercises and joint drills with U.S. forces.
BY LEE CHUL-JAE, SER MYO-JA [firstname.lastname@example.org]