President Moon Jae-in on Monday ordered an immediate submission of all documents and reports exchanged among the Ministry of National Defense, the Defense Security Command and other military agencies, regarding a document titled “Wartime Martial Law and Joint Action Plan.” The order came six days after he had issued a special order to put together an independent investigation team to probe this issue during his visit to India on Tuesday.
President Moon’s order was announced after Defense Minister Song Young-moo offered an explanation about the issue, saying, “On April 30, comments were briefly mentioned about the existence and the problematic nature of the documents in question during a discussion with Cheong Wa Dae advisors on the Defense Security Command’s reform measures.”
The series of orders from President Moon are quite unusual. It remains still controversial whether the urgency of forming an independent investigation team was so grave that it had to be approved during the president’s foreign visit. Yet the president essentially demanded an immediate submission of core investigation data from the Defense Ministry’s special investigation team. “Apart from the investigation, the president needs to find out exactly what happened as a commander in chief,” President Moon was quoted as saying, but it strikes me as an expression of his distrust toward the special investigators.
It is true that the controversy surrounding the documents was fueled by Minister Song’s loose handling of the matter and lack of consistency. On Sunday, the defense ministry repudiated its previous explanation that the document had received a legal review by an outside expert. The ministry claimed Minister Song briefly consulted the chairman of the Board of Audit and Inspection, but it was not a formal review. On Monday, Minister Song said that he mentioned the issue as an example “from the past records of Defense Security Command’s political intervention” during his discussion with the presidential advisors, giving the impression of skirting responsibility.
Whether it was a coup in the making or a working-level review for contingencies can be determined with detailed investigations into the true nature of the documents in question, by looking into whether such preparations were on an implementation stage or whether the military units mentioned in the documents were getting ready for mobilization. This can be readily clarified by the special investigation results. This journalist wonders if the president indeed expects nothing from the investigation or there is a good reason for such urgency.
Against this backdrop, the military is witnessing conflicts and conspiracy theories that involve the presidential office and lawmakers from the ruling party. With a cabinet reshuffle expected to take place this month, some even suspect if the president’s order is a step into dismantling the Defense Security Command as well as replacing Minister Song with a civilian candidate. The current juncture requires a fair and strict identification of the true nature of the documents. If the investigation is put on the back burner and followed by a secret strife to unsettle the military, that would be a true cart-before-the-horse situation.