President Moon Jae-in rebuked the military Monday. “North Korea has been upgrading its asymmetric warfare capabilities, so we should have built up our response accordingly. But I have a lingering question as to what the military has done thus far with so much money (it has received),” Moon told military brass during a policy briefing of the Defense Ministry.
During the presidential campaign, Moon called defense contract irregularities one of the deep-rooted evils of past governments.
Among the reasons why he rebuked the military may be its analysis of the projectiles North Korea launched Saturday.
About five hours after the launch, Cheong Wa Dae announced that they were presumed to be rockets fired from multiple launchers, based on the ministry’s analysis. But a day later, the military changed its judgment after further analysis with the US. It said they were more likely to have been ballistic missiles than rockets. The US Pacific Command defined the projectiles as ballistic missiles shortly after the launch.
From a military point of view, different analyses are attributed to one of two cases: Either Korea’s hardware to analyze projectiles is outdated, or the military has good hardware but was negligent in using it.
However, it is not right to reprimand the entire military before checking facts and looking into specific problems.
“What has the military done to defend the nation from North Korea’s asymmetric or nuclear capabilities?” does not seem to be a nappropriate question for Moon to ask.
One of the surest ways to counter the North’s nukes is to possess nuclear weapons or to ask the US to deploy tactical nuclear weapons. Missiles may be intercepted by the Patriot or Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile systems, but conventional weapons cannot beat nukes.
Nuclear armament is a matter for Moon to decide as commander in chief.
From the military’s point of view, THAAD should have been deployed rapidly to fend off North Korean missiles.
It was Moon who delayed its deployment, citing the need for an environmental impact assessment, though later he ordered its temporary deployment. It was also Moon who punished the military for omitting a briefing on four THAAD launchers that were already brought into the nation and are on standby for installation.
His question “What have you done with so much money?” sounds as if past regimes were corrupt and wasted money.
Defense contract scandals have hit past governments, conservative and liberal alike. The Moon administration needs to find defense irregularities and punish all concerned, while building up a solid preventive system.
However, with the North escalating its provocations, a sweeping humiliation of the military as a hotbed of corruption and incompetence will not help matters.
Moon said, “It is pitiful that South Korea still depends on US-Korea combined defense despite our hefty expenditures. Why can’t we have an independent command of wartime operations?”
The issue of taking over wartime operational control from the US should be dealt with prudently after considering the security situation. Moon should first ask himself if the basically denuclearized South is capable of defeating the nuclear-armed North without a Korea-US combined defense system.
He also said, “If the North attacks South Korea’s capital area, the military should be able to convert to an offensive operation immediately.” This is too ambiguous in an urgent situation. Does it mean that the military should mount a counterattack or not?
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Friday commanded a military drill to occupy the northwestern South Korean islands of Baeknyeongdo and Yeonpyeongdo.
Moon should have shown strong will to punish a pre-emptive strike and clarified how the military would react if the North attacked not only the capital area but any other part of the South.
The commander in chief of a nation should not be seen cowering.