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Absence of key NSC members during provocations should be addressed

Absence of key NSC members during provocations should be addressed

Posted July. 14, 2023 07:54,   

Updated July. 14, 2023 07:54


Shortly after North Korea launched a solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on Tuesday, President Yoon Suk Yeol, who is currently in Lithuania attending the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Summit, called for an emergency National Security Council (NSC) meeting via video conference. The meeting was attended by National Security Advisor Cho Tae-yong and First Deputy National Security Adviser Kim Tae-hyo, who were with the president in Lithuania, while the South Korean ministers of unification and defense, along with the head of the National Intelligence Service, gathered at the Yongsan National Crisis Management Center. This marks the first time the president has chaired an NSC meeting during an overseas tour.

President Yoon’s swift action in convening the NSC meeting in Lithuania during the early morning hours to demonstrate his resolve in responding decisively to North Korea’s provocations is commendable. However, it is indeed unusual to witness the chairman of the NSC, the president, the NSC chairperson, the standing committee chairman (director of national security), and the NSC secretary general (first deputy national security adviser) all being abroad and communicating with South Korea through video conferencing. Typically, the government has responded to North Korean provocations by holding an NSC plenary meeting led by the National Security Chief, a standing committee meeting chaired by the director of national security, or a situation review meeting overseen by the first deputy national security adviser, depending on the severity of the provocation. It appears unreasonable for the key decision-makers to be simultaneously traveling abroad.

With an exception during President Yoon’s initial visit to the NATO summit last year, when the then-director of the national security office, Kim Sung-han, remained in South Korea, it has been customary under the Yoon administration for the director of national security and the first deputy national security adviser to travel together on previous presidential overseas trips. Unlike the previous administration, where the first deputy director of the national security office handled national defense security while the second deputy director was in charge of foreign affairs security, the current administration has implemented a change, with the first deputy director assuming responsibilities for both foreign affairs security and crisis response as the chief of the NSC.

The national security office must have designated proxies to cover for officials accompanying the president on overseas trips to ensure seamless performance of duties. Moreover, using advanced secure communication technology would have mitigated any communication challenges posed by distance. However, if North Korea were to escalate beyond a mere show of force and launch a direct attack, potentially leading to an inadvertent clash between the two Koreas, the absence of NSC leaders would have been deemed responsible for the confusion in the system. The primary role of the national security office is crisis management and response, preparing for worst-case scenarios. As President Yoon has entered his second year in office, it has become necessary to reevaluate the roles and responsibilities of the national security office and NSC members.