President Park Geun-hye seemed to have wanted to signal a strong security posture rather than attend to calls for more strategic adroitness in selecting her new national security adviser. Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin, who was appointed to the post of National Security Office chief that has been vacant since Kim Jang-soo resigned on May 22, has been a figure symbolic of Seoul’s firm stance against threats from Pyongyang.
Since becoming defense minister in 2010 after North Korea’s shelling of a South Korean island near the West Sea border, the former Army general has vowed thorough retaliation for any further military provocation from the North. Pyongyang expressed its displeasure with Kim’s appointment as national security adviser by calling him a “military gangster and traitor” who it claimed was behind Seoul’s confrontational policy.
Park’s nomination of retired Army Gen. Han Min-koo as the new defense minister disappointed some conservative figures here, who have criticized Han for his weak response to the North’s artillery attack in 2010 as head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Such criticism will probably make Han, whose appointment will be formally made after a parliamentary confirmation hearing, more emboldened to counterattack North Korean military provocations.
As head of the national security team, Kim has to prove his ability to orchestrate relevant ministries in implementing sophisticated and far-sighted strategies to cope with a diversity of security challenges facing the nation, beyond inter-Korean tensions. Seoul now needs a more strategic way of thinking and approach to navigate through the changing situation on the peninsula and in Northeast Asia.
As suggested by the guarded expectations of his performance, doubts remain about whether he is up to this complicated task. He must prove himself to be the right choice. For her part, Park needs to build a more balanced line-up for her national security team, which has been dominated by figures with military backgrounds, through additional personnel measures, including the nomination of a new intelligence chief.