OPINION

[Kim Myong-sik] Escaping campaign pledge traps

By Kim Myong-sik
  • Published : Aug 16, 2017 - 17:45
  • Updated : Aug 16, 2017 - 17:45
People seriously think of war here on the Korean Peninsula. Life goes on as usual on the surface for the Republic of Korea, but unease turns into fear as increasingly fierce words about war are delivered from the capitals of our ally and enemy.

War means destruction and deaths inevitably, win or lose. Will it be possible to rebuild the nation from the ashes of a second Korean War and get back to where we are today in the world, we ask. Our minds’ eyes see power stations, auto plants, shipyards, chipmakers, seaports and airports in ruins alongside the rubble of apartment complexes that had once boasted changing skylines. And lives lost by the millions.

In his National Liberation Day address, President Moon Jae-in vowed to prevent war “at all costs.” He stressed no one can take military action here without Seoul’s consent, but people heard him candidly say some days before that he felt “powerless” in the atmosphere of war heating up around the peninsula.

Our role in a perceived war cannot but be limited in starting, executing or ending it. We have to admit, belatedly, that this is the result of our dependence on the United States for our defense while we pursued economic development. Now, we have to pay for it and do everything we can to win if war is unavoidable and, realistically speaking, to minimize losses.

How prepared are we for the war? The sad fact is that if war starts tomorrow, our internal absurdities with continuing political and social confusion will seriously harm our sustainability. Two examples: The immediate former president is in jail on corruption charges that stemmed from her mysterious dependence on a greedy aide, while the top leader of the nation’s largest conglomerate is also behind bars for sponsoring the duo.

The nation has just passed through great turmoil and still feeling aftershocks. In what was the first interruption of political regularity since democratic reforms in 1987, Park Geun-hye was fired from office at the end of massive demonstrations. The process was legally managed, but the whole affair proved that political gravity has moved from the right to the left.

Moon won the snap election with 41 percent of votes cast. Support in large part came from those who recently disowned the conservatives because of Park’s improprieties, and was much less earned by his campaign pledges, including appeasement with the North. Yet, the new president is making a gross miscalculation about the majority will in the area of security. He simply runs against it.

The liberal president, busily announcing one welfare package after another, has showed a piteously wobbling stance regarding the deployment here of the US’ Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system in the face of Chinese objections and protests by anti-American groups. The six units of the battery remain inoperable, disassembled in two locations.

In his address Tuesday, Moon repeated what he had offered to Pyongyang in his “Berlin statement” last month, calling for inter-Korean dialogue and economic cooperation. He expressed the overstretched hope that pressures with tough UN sanctions will lead them to the negotiating table. The president must still favor a softer approach if he had choice.

Another of Moon’s key decisions to halt the construction of two nuclear reactors in a southeastern coastal area puts him in a serious dilemma. He has to choose between abiding by his campaign promise and bowing to the industrial, academic and labor sectors calling to save the project, possibly using a citizens’ jury for an excuse.

The new president should now forget about his campaign pledges as far as national defense is concerned. He is reminded that he was elected not for what he said he would do, but because of the people’s disenchantment with the incumbent leader and her associates. Here’s a short list of urgent tasks the president is advised to carry out to meet the crisis.

-- Strengthen civil defense exercises across the country.

-- Take tough actions against unruly protest activities in all areas.

-- Prudently publicize the gist of the “Kill Chain” pre-emptive strike plan and “Korea Air and Missile Defense” system to ease public anxiety over the North’s nuclear and missile threats.

-- Make sure power and water supply, transportation services and provision of necessities go on with minimum disruption in times of emergency through repeated simulations.

-- Declare a political truce unilaterally and let law enforcement authorities refrain from actions that could be seen as political reprisals on past powers.

-- Cancel the plan to shorten the compulsory service period of military recruits from 21 to 18 months, which will hugely reduce the professionalism of our armed forces personnel.

The reshuffle of all the four-star officers in the three armed services branches last week may have the effect of spurring military organization. Now the commander-in-chief and the new leadership should bring all soldiers, marines, sailors and airmen to top capabilities to win conventional battles on the ground, at sea and in the air while the North’s weapons of mass destruction will be taken care of by the US’ extended deterrence.

In the course of renegotiating the South Korea-US free trade agreement, as requested by Washington, we should present US delegates with detailed lists of arms that Korea has purchased over the past years and items that we are interested in to bolster defense in the years ahead in order to convince them the decade-old trade pact has served and will serve the interests of both nations.

In a crisis, the government should act accordingly. It does not have to scare people unnecessarily, but needs to alert them at an appropriate level. The media, domestic and international, conveys more than enough of the threats from the North, so what the government should do is give everyone confidence and trust in the armed forces to beat the enemy in any form of war.

The Trump administration would do its part more rationally as its leader quickly learns the economic, geopolitical and strategic stake the US has on Korea. Here, our president is reminded that no election campaign pledge is sacred enough to override the challenge of changing situation as complex as it is here on the Korean Peninsula.


By Kim Myong-sik

Kim Myong-sik is a former editorial writer for The Korea Herald. -– Ed.