Excessive guarding of the presidentHAN YOUNG-IK
The author is a political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
The Praetorian Guard of the ancient Roman emperor wore civilian attire of toga when guarding the emperor in the capital. They only used armor for training and battles. Considering that they were serving more than 2000 years ago, they remind us of modern-day bodyguards in suits and casual clothes.
In contrast, Qin Shi Huang’s five tours of China were grand in scale. Surrounded by heavily armed infantry and cavalry, the parade evokes the image of a moving palace. The purpose of the tour was to examine local sentiment and promote the authority of the emperor.
The size of armed guards is not the only barrier between the power and the people. In Korea, excessive loyalty of the presidential bodyguards has caused controversies many times. Chang Se-dong, head of the Presidential Security Service (PSS) for Chun Doo Hwan, is famous for coming up with the phrase, “mood escort,” claiming that the bodyguards not only protect but also keep the president feeling comfortable. Cha Ji-cheol, the last chief of the PSS for President Park Chung Hee, had a tank company patrol around the Blue House from 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. each day. From the view of the general public, it was a peculiar measure.
Since democratization, such excessive personal security has become unimaginable. It is also rare for a powerful figure to become the head of the PSS. But you must not ignore the fact that the PSS is a constant player in the presidential office. Though the administration changes every five years, the security service remains the same. This year’s budget for the PSS is nearly 97 billion won ($75.2 million), bigger than the combined budget of 95.6 billion won for the office of presidential secretaries and the National Security Office.
Sometimes, the logic of security comes before the president’s agenda. Former president Moon Jae-in promised to move the office to Gwanghwamun but had to retract the plan due to security and safety reasons. President Yoon Suk-yeol also underwent heated debates on security before moving to his new office in Yongsan.
Some people criticized President Yoon and his wife for excessive security for his trip to a bakery in Seoul. The PSS claimed that the criticism was undeserved as it was actually trying to clear traffic congestion during the first couple’s trips. But I hope they start to think about more flexible presidential security than that.