President Lee Myung-bak chaired a meeting of South Koreas top military commanders Tuesday. His move is understood to express his shock over, reflections on and resolution of the sinking of the naval patrol ship Cheonan. He is the first president to chair such a meeting since the founding of the Republic of Koreas military 62 years ago.
At the meeting, President Lee said that as soon as he was briefed on the ships sinking, he sensed the incident was a matter of major international importance involving inter-Korean relations, suggesting North Korea is the culprit behind the incident. He reaffirmed that once Seoul determines the cause of the incident, it will take clear and stern measures against who is responsible. He will also launch an ad hoc task force at the presidential office to overhaul the national security system and strengthen his offices national security functions.
History will record how our armed forces changed since the Cheonan incident, President Lee said, urging an overhaul of the militarys defense posture. More than anything else, he told the military to see if it dealt with national defense based on ideology and re-solidify its mental defense posture. He also proposed an overhaul to the militarys defense posture, emergency responses, reporting and command system, intelligence capabilities and discipline, while changing operations, weapons, organization and culture to catch up with the times.
The Roman military strategist Flavius Vegetius Renatus said, "If you want peace, prepare for war." Tuesdays meeting of the top commanders was also a reflection on how South Koreans have grown insensitive to their proximity to the worlds most bellicose and armed country.
Defense Minister Kim Tae-young said South Korea will remember March 26, the day the Cheonan sank, as a day of infamy for the Souths armed forces. He said the military will strengthen its monitoring of the North, complement preliminary measures for such an incident, re-establish the concept of northwestern coastal defense, reevaluate the priority of national threats, and reinforce the psychological posture of officers and soldiers. Such pledges, reflection and orders include almost all of the problems in national security brought to light by the sinking. What is important is how the country turns them into a system and puts it into practice.
The president said he will create the post of special presidential secretary for national security, but a more effective system is necessary. The administration apparently plans to turn its crisis situation center into a crisis management center for diagnosing and formulating strategies for crises, just as the National Security Council did under the previous government. A crisis management center might reflect the incumbent administrations perception of the Cheonan incident not as a national security matter, but as a disaster. Violation of national security and disasters are very different in nature.
South Korea must change if it cannot change North Korea. The president, his administration and the military must show the people that they have changed because of the Cheonan incident.