The work plan that the Ministry of Defense reported to President Moon Jae-in Thursday focused on the acceleration to alleviate military tensions between the two Koreas and a swift preparation for the transfer of wartime operational control. However, the plan severely lacks substances as to how it will handle the threats posed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile capabilities.
The defense ministry reported that they will continue to implement the September 19 military agreement in a bid to ease military tensions on the Korean Peninsula. However, the report did not mention any measure to tackle the potential risks that experts feared the agreement might entail such as the negative impact that a ban on unmanned aerial vehicles could have on our defensive capacity. Moreover, the ministry’s plan to accelerate the transfer of wartime operational control by conducting the Initial Operating Capability test next year smacks of obsession about the “political timeframe” where the Moon-Jae-in administration reaches the transition target of OPCON before his term is over, which will likely sap the security foundation of the country.
The Ministry of Defense, which has been earmarked with a budget worth 46.7 trillion won next year, the largest sum ever for the ministry, stresses that they will build a “strong army safeguarding peace,” but the actual nuts and bolts of their plan belie their rhetoric. The ministry’s 2018 work plan, which was reported in January, stipulates that it would drive an early establishment of Three Axes of Korean defense system consisting of “Kill Chain-KAMD-KMPR” to respond more efficiently to the nuclear and missile threats from North Korea, even specifying a budget for it, but such a plan was not mentioned at all in this year’s report. The words about North Korea have also been carefully minced as well not to provoke the communist state, speaking of “a potential threat from neighboring countries” instead of articulating “North Korean threats.” Such an equivocal wording blurs the identity of our main security threat while misleading the fundamental direction to build up our national defense system.
Without a doubt, building inter-Korean détente and independent defense system is important. However, a national security agency such as the Ministry of Defense must not forget their mandate and reason for existence even for a moment. When President Trump was bent on praising North Korean leader Kim Jong Un this summer, his chief officers including the Secretary of Defense and military commanders weighted in to stress the risks of North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs and keep the diplomatic balance. Regrettably, South Korea is witnessing its defense ministry scrambling against other state agencies to implement the core agendas of the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae.