[Column] Redefining North Korea as our ‘main enemy’

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[Column] Redefining North Korea as our ‘main enemy’

Hur Jae-young

The author is a professor at the Global Leaders College, Yonsei University.

In a democratic country, each government in power may have different economic and social policies as well as foreign policy. But security and national defense, the biggest goals of foreign policy, mustn’t differ government-to-government. As has been proven through a long history, what and how a country must prepare is clear. A nation must find possible threats that may infringe upon their national interest and have the ability and readiness to counter them.

The Yoon Suk Yeol administration recently released its first “Defense White Paper,” which states what are threats to the Republic of Korea and how we should prepare for them. The direction of a political group’s foreign policy can be defined by intentions and abilities.

If a group has hostile intent against us and threatening abilities to realize that intent, it is an enemy. The 2022 Defense White Paper, according to this perspective, logically states who our enemies are. It is the first time in six years that a Defense White Paper clearly states the concept of a main enemy.

To us, North Korea is a subject of unification through exchanges and cooperation, but it is also the biggest existing national security threat. The North Korean regime has already declared that the South is its enemy and made clear its hostile intent to communize the entire Korean Peninsula. Furthermore, the North in September last year introduced a law governing its “nuclear force policy,” which does not rule out the preemptive use of nuclear weapons.

To realize the hostile intent of the regime, the North Korean military continuously strengthens its offensive military powers, including nuclear and missile capabilities.

At the military parade on Feb. 8 marking the 75th anniversary of the North Korean military’s foundation, the communist regime made public its tactical nuclear weapons unit, revealing its threats more overtly. Amidst the North’s moves to strengthen its provocative strategy toward the South, growing nuclear abilities and deepening military threats, how can the people trust their military if it does not label the North Korean regime and military an enemy?

There is no doubt that nuclear arms and weapons of mass destruction are the most serious issue among all North Korean military threats. The 2022 Defense White Paper addressed in detail the efforts to defend the South from the North’s nuclear and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) threats and how they will be pushed forward.

The White Paper specifically explains the South’s offensive concept in three parts — the “Kill Chain” for a preemptive removal of North Korean targets when there is a clear sign of a missile launch; the Korea Air and Missile Defense (KAMD) aimed at detecting and intercepting missiles at an early stage; and the Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation (KMPR) operational concept to launch overwhelming retaliatory counterattacks if the North uses WMD, including nuclear arms, against the South. The three Korean-style military systems of attack, defense and retaliation were presented in a complete picture.

The principle of deterrence is to prevent a provocation by sending a clear message to an enemy that we will block its attack and retaliate with even greater force. But hiding the message that we have the capabilities and intention to retaliate is to forget this principle. Deterrence is made possible not by the goodwill or conscience of the enemy, but by our own strength. And the South’s three missile defense systems have well incorporated the principle of deterrence.

Another important change in the White Paper is that the government has officially accepted the geopolitical concept of the Indo-Pacific region. Going beyond the Northeast Asian theater, the government reflected the changes in the international environment in the paper.

Last year, the Yoon administration declared the start of this shift by announcing its “Indo-Pacific Strategy of Freedom, Peace and Prosperity.” It is incredibly encouraging that the South is finally making the shift from the perspective of national defense.

It is noteworthy that the Defense White Paper stated the government’s intention to improve security cooperation with Japan. Security cooperation with Japan — a country that shares a military alliance with the United States and is exposed to the North’s nuclear and weapons of mass destruction threats — is not a choice but a must.

As stated in the White Paper, we must maintain stern principles toward Japan and take strong measures against sensitive pending issues such as disputes over history and Dokdo islets, while deepening future-oriented cooperation in the field of national defense.

By publishing the 2022 Defense White Paper, the Ministry of National Defense announced that the white paper based on the principle of peace through powers has returned. Expectations are high that the next Defense White Paper, scheduled to be published in 2024, will contain further progresses in all fields and a more progressive and strategic direction.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
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