Army Chief of Staff Hwang Ui-don, who came under fire for a shady real estate deal, resigned Tuesday in a surprise move. President Lee Myung-bak accepted his resignation because Hwang lost the trust of the military and public, and thus was deemed unqualified as a top military commander. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Han Min-koo also reportedly tendered his resignation over North Koreas attack on Yeonpyeong Island, but was persuaded to stay on. The Defense Ministry should use this fiasco as an opportunity to step up reform and build up a genuine military with solid combat capability, its most pressing task at hand.
Hwangs resignation was seen as inevitable. Even if he did nothing illegal when buying a two-story building near the ministry in Seoul and redeveloping it into a six-story building after the easing of height restrictions, he acted inappropriately as a top military commander considering public sentiment. If suspicion over his morality and mistrust linger, his ability to give authoritative orders to his fellow soldiers under his line of command will be hampered.
The military must focus its energy and efforts on drastically improving weaknesses unveiled by the North Korean attack following the Cheonan sinking by dramatically reforming itself and building strong forces. The North could seek to attack the South at any time in a renewed bid to step up its power succession to heir apparent Kim Jong Un and to internally consolidate with the view to completing its goal of becoming a great and powerful nation by 2012. Seoul could also face another sinking and shelling by Pyongyang. A temporary vacuum in the Armys top commander should never aggravate national security fears. The government must speed up a personnel reshuffle in the military, which was delayed due to Hwangs surprise resignation, and thus stabilize military organization as soon as possible.
The president and defense minister should give preference as promised to soldiers who have strong combat capability and deploy them to major combat units rather than to the Defense Ministry or Army headquarters to contribute to building a strong military. Discontent over personnel management heavily affects the militarys morale and consolidation, so fairness in the reshuffle must be ensured. Fair and just personnel management is the first step toward military reform that boosts mental combat capability.
Solid combat capability is a basic factor needed by not only high-ranking military officers, but also other military and petty officers and rank and file soldiers. Even if the compulsory military period for private soldiers is reduced to 21 months (for the Army and Marines), the government should focus on building a strong military through intense training and education. The ratio of would-be soldiers who applied to join the Marines to fulfill their compulsory military service increased to 3.57 to one for next year following the attack on the Marines-guarded Yeonpyeong. This demonstrates that young men have a strong spirit and patriotism for their nation. The military can transform itself into a strong force only when its entire organization from top brass to privates grow strong.