The sinking of the naval patrol ship Cheonan has not just cost the lives of dozens of servicemen and a battleship. The incident has also showed the problems and loopholes in South Koreas readiness for a North Korean attack, including the militarys preparedness for emergencies, chain of command, the capacity to survey and gather intelligence, military principles, and awareness of national security. Whether the Souths capacity to tackle an economic crisis is inversely related with national security preparedness is in question. Seoul must comprehensively, fundamentally and urgently restore its military, apart from identifying the direct cause of the incident and resulting countermeasures. Should it fail to take on this challenge, the countrys 50 million people cannot sleep well at night no matter how well the economy performs.
President Lee Myung-bak declared a resolution for the incident in his memorial speech for the incidents victims yesterday. As head of state and commander-in-chief, he pledged a thorough investigation into the cause of the fiasco, decisive countermeasures based on the result of the investigation, and military reform to build up strong armed forces in his first statement to the people 24 days after the sinking. A strong military arises not just from powerful weaponry, but from an invincible spirit, he said, adding he will transform the military into strong armed forces.
The Cheonan incident has sounded an alarm on the loopholes of the South Korean militarys alertness and preparedness against North Korea. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War, but this conflict is becoming a forgotten war to South Korea. To the people, who strongly believe no war will erupt on the Korean Peninsula, the sinking of the Cheonan is a total shock. They have been oblivious about these obvious realities that peace inevitably entails cost, and that the country can maintain peace only when its military capability, principles and spirit are far superior to those of its enemies. More than anything, loopholes in contingency response and the chain of command of the South Korean military have hugely disappointed the Korean public and added public fears.
South Korea is vulnerable to unbalanced military power vis-à-vis North Korea, including the Norths nuclear weapons, diverse short- and long-range missiles, biological and chemical weapons, and 180,000-strong elite forces for special welfare. The South Korean militarys capability, including the high-tech Aegis vessels, excels North Koreas in naval supremacy, but the Cheonans sinking graphically demonstrates how vulnerable the South Korean Navy is in a guerrilla-type sea struggle. If the incident is confirmed to have been caused by a North Korean mine, South Korea must drastically improve its capacity in underwater surveillance and defense to guard against North Korean submarines and submersible vessels.
A strong military spirit is generated through high morale, principles and order between high and low chains of command and sound awareness of national security. These are also closely related to societys overall mood and the publics awareness of the importance of national security. Military secrets leaked recklessly by soldiers and circulating randomly in the Internet attest to the problem of poor awareness of the importance of national security. Effective military education must be introduced to help boost recognition and awareness of national security among young soldiers.
Piecemeal reform will have only limited efficiency in improving the armed forces and building a strong military. South Korea can establish a strong military only when it renews its strong commitment and is willing to re-inaugurate the military by remembering the day of the Armys foundation in 1948.