ROK Government Should Strengthen Crisis Management System, Not Military Might
– Stop the blaming of the previous governments for the current failure of managing crisis
– Stop unrealistic, military retaliation plans to avoid military escalation
– Stop closed-doors decisions and unilateral North policy that make people more insecure
Unprecedented war clouds are hanging over Korea. Following a ROK-US joint military exercise that ended today(Dec 1), the ROK government announced the start of shooting exercises at all seas. This comes immediately after the announcement of a higher increase in the military budget for next year, and concentration of fire power at the troubled war. Also in review is change of the code of engagement towards immediate and non-proportional retaliation. With regard to these worrisome developments and the recent Presidential public statement on the crisis, PSPD (People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy) appeals the following.
On November 29th, President Lee Myong-bak said in his public statement, “It is a historical lesson that ‘humiliating peace’ made by intimidation will eventually lead to a worse consequence. Those who defended North Korean regime so far should have seen the real nature of that regime by now… I will make it sure that North Korea will pay the cost for its provocation.” What he brings about by his hard-line stance of “time for an action that is more worthy than thousand words” is not dissolution of people’s insecurity, but greater worry and tension.
In the public statement President Lee blamed previous governments, which pursued engagement policies towards the North, for the current armed conflict and military tension. He claimed “any more of the patience and tolerance will only encourage even greater provocations.” He even labeled those who supported the peaceful engagement approach to North Korea as supporters of North Korea. This is an unacceptable political manipulation. It is irresponsible for the government in charge of managing all crises in Korea in the past three years to blame others for the current crisis.
The military tension in the West Sea is not new in nature. The maritime demarcation is still ambiguous, and talks have not reached an agreement yet since 1991 when two Koreas agreed to hold talks to clarify borders in their Basic Agreements. One must note that in the joint statement of October 4th, 2007, the heads of two Koreas agreed to designate the trouble water in the West Sea as a Zone of Peace and Cooperation in the West Sea. Unfortunately, this agreement has been annulled by the current government of South Korea.
In the previous two governments, each time there was an exchange of fire in the West Sea, two Korea still maintained minimum communication and crisis management system by holding summit meetings and establishing a hot line. It was to prevent escalation of military conflict. However, under the Lee’s government, such minimum talks or preventive measures have totally disappeared as accusation, ignorance and confrontation were let loose between two Koreas. The measures introduced by the current government of South Korea are full of harsh rhetoric but lack real crisis management measures.
North Korea’s bombardment on Yeonpyeong Island is no doubt an unprecedented military provocation. However, before assessing it as a ‘consequence of the humiliating peace’ it is necessary to rationally recall the course of inter-Korea relationship in the past three years. Has there been a moment of active peaceful engagement with North Korea to improve relationship? Lee’s government would find it difficult to deny that most of its proposals and talks towards North Korea were to bring the other side to its knees. Lee’s North Korea policy known as ‘Non-nuclear Opening 3000’ was, for example, to give economic support if North Korea surrenders. This is far from any diplomatic language or gesture to make a relationship.
Furthermore, by nullifying the June 15th and October 4th Inter-Korea Agreements, Lee’s government undermined sustainability, predictability and credibility of inter-Korea agreements. It is also highly questionable if there was any prudence when the head of the intelligence agency announced ill health of the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and media followed it by painting a near-collapse situation in Pyongyang. When Lee’s government openly made its new military strategy public, it shocked observers: it contained plans to capture Pyongyang to capture North Korean leadership, dismantle weapons of mass destruction, and stabilize North Korea. The ROK-US joint military exercises of the past six months were mostly not defensive, but provocative in the way they assumed occupation of North Korea. What the development of the past three years points to is that responsibility of today’s crisis lies both on North Korea’s military adventurism and South Korea’s unilateralism.
We have no wish to defend military adventurists of North Korea, and their attack on Yeonpyeong Island should be denounced by all, both in Korea and by the international community. At the same time, we want to stress that the US and South Korea should not forget the historical lesson that unilateralism of the stronger side results in repulsion and adventurism of the weaker side. Expanding a localized provocation to a conflict in the whole peninsular can never be an objective in counter strategies. Then, Lee’s government must take it as an obligation to put alternative approaches in place to restore crisis management mechanisms, instead of augmenting military tension. See the predicament of the mightiest military power in Iraq and Afghanistan: there is no military might that alone guarantees perfect defense.
In the regard, the military counter-measures that the current ROK government is going to employ raise serious concerns. Lee’s government is to change the current code of proportional engagement (cannon shooting to counter cannon shooting) into a new code of multiplied retaliatory engagement (naval and air-force attack to counter cannon shooting). This is to apply the so-called principle of sufficiency. This is a dangerous idea. The code of proportional engagement has played a role of preventing escalation of conflict whenever there was a clash between two Koreas. Along with the rising destructive power of newly deployed weapons, this rule is more necessary today than before. Discarding it will encourage further military adventurism trying to make the whole peninsula a conflict area.
Behind the intention to revise the code of engagement lies the ROK government confidence that the South’ military force is stronger than the North’s. In other words, it is based on the dissatisfaction that the South, though able, is made unable to punish the North because of the rule of proportionality. If it is revised, it may sooth some sectors of the public in South Korea that are in anger against the North Korea’s attack, but will face the other larger sectors of the public at awe that wish neither military clash nor escalation into war. Instead of shifting to retaliation, Lee’s government should employ rational principles of consistency in its defense policy and code of engagement such as proportionality, inevitability, and emergency. The best way is to avoid a hostile engagement, and when it is inevitable, the next best way is to use restrained force in an effective way.
Since the attack on Yeonpyeong Island, the military budget is likely to make a big leap. Yesterday, the parliamentary defense committee passed a military budget plan of 8.1% increase for the next year (31.9 trillion won / 31.9 billion dollars), much larger than the earlier proposal of 5.8% increase. PSPD criticizes this decision because this is a random inflation of the budget making use of the Yeonpyeong incident, but without due scrutiny over the need and utility. The National Assembly(parliament) must ask in its budgetary review session whether it was the shortage of budget and arms or inefficient use of the large armament in hand that lies behind the failure in defense in Yeonpyeong incident.
We are also concerned that Lee’s government has been stressing ‘readiness to counter North Korea’s asymmetrical threat and localized provocation’ in its demand for military budget expansion. Yeonpyeong incident is used as a moment to carry this appeal further. The claim that there is an ‘asymmetrical threat’ indicates that South Korea’s military force already substantially outstands that of North Korea. The South Korean military has made public its confidence and strategic superiority when it explained the new North Korea’s contingency plan. All are geared towards much higher military spending and deployment of the most advanced weapons system. However, we must note that such a development will heighten North Korea’s military insecurity and force it to resort on other kinds of asymmetrical military power. We hold the view that if South Korea reduces and diverts some of the current armament for full-scale war towards defense against localized battles, it will be able to reduce military spending and have efficient defense readiness at the same time. This reform will require reduction of the over-expanded land force, over-numbered army generals, and those unnecessary units for full-scale warfare and occupation of North Korea.
It may be a political rhetoric to say “humiliating peace based on intimidation will bring worse consequences”, but certainly not a proper statement by a responsible president. Perhaps, the militarist forces in North Korea are making similar statements and preparing equally non-proportional ways of engagement. Intentions to overwhelm or subdue the other side by military means only increase mutual mistrust and the danger of armed conflict. And deeper insecurity and larger cost fall upon the people. What Lee’s government should do is to move away from unilateral high stance towards North Korea and instead to place crisis management measures towards making peace. The logic of punishment by might cannot foster peace.
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