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Trust building between president and military

Posted November. 30, 2010 10:53,   


In a national speech on North Korea’s shelling of Yeonpyeong Island Monday, President Lee Myung-bak said, “I feel a deep responsibility for failing to protect the people’s lives and assets.” The people felt sorry to see the president apologize for failing to fulfill his mission of defending the nation. “If the North commits additional provocations against us, we will make sure that it pays a dear price without fail,” he said. What the public really wants is real action, however, not empty verbal promises.

He made the same promise in his May 24 speech delivered two months after the sinking of the Cheonan by North Korea’s torpedo attack. But he has failed to deliver. A flurry of sound bites on reform has come over the past eight months since the sinking, but the Yeonpyeong attack has unveiled many loopholes. The public is even tired of broken reform pledges.

The government and military must put national security as the top priority to ensure public safety. Seoul needs to present a specific schedule as soon as possible and conduct timely and proper reform to change national defense. The government should present a specific timetable and get the schedules and deliveries checked by the public rather than making repeated pledges of arming the five Yellow Sea islands with the latest and most effective weaponry.

The fundamental reason the military failed to retaliate against the North’s attack as pledged was not weapons systems or equipment. South Korea`s fighter jets and high-performance missiles are far superior to those of North Korea in performance and are a great means to respond to attacks. If problems lie in weapons and equipment, the solution can come through raising the people’s burden of defense expenses. The problem has a more fundamental cause, however. Trust is inadequate between the president as commander-in-chief and the top brass of the military, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Military officials complain that the relationship between the president and the military are too remote.

Another factor is lack of commitment by the president and military to retaliation and lack of mental spirit. Do the president and the Joint Chiefs of Staff share North Korea strategies and the concept of military operations in preparation for an emergency? Both sides are at a loss over the intensity of responses in every attack by the North. The military has failed to carry out missions independently at the discretion of commanders, while the president has interfered too much with military affairs to cause confusion in the course of operations, thus repeatedly losing the timing for counterattacks.

The public wants to believe what the president says but its mindset has become jaded and indifferent. Above all, the government must check what to implement, what is underway, and what it can or cannot deliver in the president’s public speech. The president, military and public can restore mutual trust only through courageous decisions rather than repetitive sound bites.