Defense Minister-designate Kim Kwan-jin expressed firm resolve to take a strong retaliatory action, including air strike, in the event of another North Korean military provocation during his parliamentary confirmation hearing Friday.
Underscoring the need to distinguish the rules of engagement and a self-defense right, Kim indicated that the South Korean military would not be bound only to the rules if the communist state mounts another attack on South Korean soil.
“The rules of engagement are effective as a guideline in case of accidental clashes (between the two Koreas). However, if (the North) makes a provocation, in terms of the exercise of our self-defense right, (the South) can sufficiently retaliate until the origins of enemy threats are completely removed,” said Kim.
“We can mobilize all combat forces available and if that is not sufficient, (we) can deploy our combined support forces and make additional strikes.”
The Nov. 23 artillery shelling of Yeonpyeong Island near the tense western sea border killed four South Koreans including two civilians, sending peninsular tensions soaring. Following the attack, the military has faced criticism for its “slow and weak” response.
|Defense Minister-designate Kim Kwan-jin speaks during his parliamentary confirmation hearing Friday. (Yang Dong-chul/The Korea Herald)|
Calls have also been mounting for revising the rules of engagement, which were established by the U.N. Command in 1953 with an aim to prevent an accidental armed clash between the two Koreas from escalating into a full-scale war.
The Ministry of National Defense has recently said that it would redress the rules of engagement in consultation with the UNC to allow South Korean troops to take a stronger counterstrike in case of a North Korean provocation and give more leeway to field commanders in leading their troops under an emergency situation.
Touching on the possibility of more North Korean provocations, Kim said, “The North has thus far made provocations in unpredictable ways and the intensity of its provocations has increased. There is a possibility that the North would provoke in an utterly unpredictable way.”
Kim also said that a North Korean provocation may not escalate into a full-blown war given strong deterrence presented by the South Korea-U.S. combined forces and domestic situations in the North. He also said that it was “clear” that the North Korean military is the South’s “main enemy.”
“South Korea and the U.S. have been closely watching all signs from North Korea. As the means to deter and prevent (North Korean provocations) are reliable, I believe it will be difficult for a provocation to escalate into a war even if we should strongly retaliate,” Kim said.
“There are also factors of instability (that would make it difficult for the North to decide to go to war with the South) considering its economic situations and the internal power succession.”
Kim pointed out that South Korean citizens in the industrial complex in the North’s border city of Gaeseong could be a “problem” when the South carries out military operations in response to North Korea’s future provocations.
“We should definitely go over this issue as it is a political and military matter,” Kim said in response to a question by a lawmaker who emphasized that there should not be any South Korean hostages held by the North when the military has to deal with additional provocations.
Noting that South Korea is in the most serious crisis situation since the 1950-53 Korean War, Kim said that he will set up an operational plan to bolster military capabilities to protect the five border islands in the West Sea.
“We will set up an operational plan as to how we will respond to provocations according to their different forms after carefully reviewing possible types of North Korean attacks on the border islands.”
The nominee said that the military will “in principle” resume a psychological warfare with North Korea, in response to a question by a lawmaker who asked if he will resume it with loudspeakers and electronic display boards near the heavily fortified border.
Immediately after the artillery attack, the military sent some 400,000 anti-North leaflets to the North in a reversal of its cautious stance. The military had been cautious about fully resuming the psychological warfare as it could seriously provoke the reclusive state.
Kim’s appointment does not require parliamentary approval.
The parliamentary committee unilaterally adopted a report on the confirmation hearing a day earlier than the parties initially planned to, so as not to leave the position for the defense chief vacant for too long during in what they called a “security crisis situation.” He is to take office on Saturday.
Born in Jeonju, North Jeolla Province, Kim, 61, graduated from the Korea Military Academy and served as the commanding general of the 35th Army Division, commander of the 2nd Army Corps, chief director of the JCS Joint Operations Headquarters and assumed command of the 3rd Army in 2005.
He became the 33rd chairman of the JCS in 2006, and was replaced by Kim Tae-young in 2008, who offered to resign as defense chief late last month following the artillery attack.
By Song Sang-ho (firstname.lastname@example.org)