[Newsmaker] Defense minister nominee pledges strong military reform

By Yeo Jun-suk
  • Published : Jun 12, 2017 - 16:09
  • Updated : Jun 13, 2017 - 13:44
Under the previous Roh Moo-hyun administration, then-Vice Admiral Song Young-moo was tasked with leading the effort to overhaul the South Korean military by reducing its overreliance on the Army and Korea-US alliance.

Song pushed this agenda until he retired as the chief of Naval Operation in 2008 after former President Lee Myung-bak took office. In 2012, Song served as a key security adviser for then-presidential candidate Moon Jae-in and worked alongside Moon until he won the presidential election this year.

Song’s reform initiative is likely to come to fruition, as the former Navy chief was nominated as the first defense minister under the Moon administration, which has designated military reform as a centerpiece of the new government’s defense policy.

Song Young-moo (Yonhap)

“Military reform aims to transform the military based on a new paradigm. … (If inaugurated) I will push for military reform as if (I am) rebuilding the military,” said Song in his first meeting with members of the press corps at the Defense Ministry on Monday.

“Now we are witnessing a paradigm shift in modern warfare across the Army, Navy and the Air Force. Including warzones and weapon system, everything is changing. It is time for us to consider building a new military.”

The main focus of the military reform is to streamline its force structure, revamp its leadership and enhance interoperability among all military branches -- a move that would require sacrifice from the Army, which has dominated the military’s decision-making process during the past conservative governments.

Mindful of potential protest from the Army, Song stressed that the military reform is going to be a comprehensive plan applied to all the military branches.

“Please don’t introduce me as the defense minister from the Navy,” said Song. “I saw some reports saying the Army is nervous as the new defense minister (nominee) comes from the Navy. I think it would only foster confrontation between different service branches.”

“I worked at the JCS when I was a Navy captain and also worked there until I became an admiral. Through working in different posts and capacities, I believe I have a full grasp of issues at the Army, Navy and Air Force,” Song said.

The nominee declined to comment on politically sensitive military issues, including the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system and the government’s stance against North Korea’s increasing missile and nuclear threat.

Instead, Song described the North Korean military as “the North’s puppet army” a derogatory term often employed during the Cold War era, stressing his resolve to fend off the North’s provocations amid concern that Song would adopt a softening stance against the North under the Moon administration.

Song was awarded a military merit medal for winning a naval battle against North Korea in waters near the Northern Limit Line in 1999. The battle resulted in the sinking of at least one 40-ton North Korean torpedo boat and severe damage to a 420-ton patrol craft, among others.

“Throughout my whole military career, the battle has been the most precious memory because we completely defeated North Korea, I mean the North’s puppet army, at the first battle between the two Koreas’ regular forces after the Korean War,” said Song.

By Yeo Jun-suk (