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[Opinion] Defense Ministry vs. Defense Committee

Posted November. 14, 2008 08:15,   


The National Defense Committee of the National Assembly has long patronized the Defense Ministry. Few other ministries enjoy such a good relationship with their parliamentary committees. The cordial relationship probably stems from their intimate tradition established under the military administrations of Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo. The committee’s cooperation with the ministry to strengthen national security while keeping it in check served as a good model for other National Assembly committees in the public’s eye. Their relationship has gone sour, however, in the wake of verbal accusations against each other in the latest regular parliamentary session.

The seed of conflict originated from differences over the promotion of a parliamentary liaison officer to the ministry. The colonel is said to have performed miscellaneous and menial jobs for defense committee members, including making golf reservations. He won the committee’s confidence in the last parliamentary probe with his preparation for a test ride on a submarine and F-15 fighter jets and a visit to the Dokdo islets. Committee chairman Kim Hak-song and other ruling and opposition members requested the colonel’s promotion, but Defense Minister Lee Sang-hee angered the committee by refusing.

In response, the committee notified the ministry that it should close down its parliamentary liaison office by Friday, citing lack of authority to establish the 45-year-old office. The committee didn’t hide its distress over the Defense Ministry’s refusal to promote the colonel. Some say, however, that the real reason behind the committee’s abrupt measure lies in Lee’s “blunt attitude” or “uncooperative work style” when appearing before the committee. Members complained that the ministry gave them no information on the recent deregulation of military protection zones, the withdrawal of the Korean troops from Iraq, and the sending of forces to Somalia.

The Defense Ministry says Kim looks down on Lee and senior ministry officials. Minister Lee is particularly upset over the chairman playing golf with top brass in the Army, Navy and Air Force, while the minister visited Korea’s Zaytun division in Iraq. It considers such behavior nothing short of a challenge to the minister’s authority. The ministry also said the colonel was not promoted to prevent abusive personnel solicitation. Kim was discharged from the Army as a corporal, while Lee retired as a four-star general.

Editorial Writer Yook Jeong-soo (sooya@donga.com)