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Military envisions reform plan that goes beyond NK nuclear threat

With the two Koreas speeding up their efforts to reduce cross-border tensions and enhance socio-economic ties, the South Korean government is seeking to formulate a new security policy that focuses more on broader threats in the region rather than North Korea’s nuclear program.

The Ministry of National Defense said Monday that its affiliated agency has been carrying out extensive research that postulates a changed security landscape where North Korea’s nuclear and missile threat no longer exists.

The new research, conducted by Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, is likely to focus on broader security threats surrounding the Korean Peninsula. Chief among them is the growing rivalry between the US and China as the two sides seek to expand their influence in the region. 

“Considering the changes to the security landscape, we believe it is necessary to conduct research on the military’s future structure,” Defense Ministry spokesperson Choi Hyun-soo said in a press briefing. 

The Ministry of National Defense. Yonhap
The Ministry of National Defense. Yonhap

However, Choi added that KIDA research will not replace the ministry’s ongoing efforts to implement a military reform plan. Dubbed “Defense Reform Plan 2.0,” the scheme focuses on establishing robust missile defense system against North Korea.

Since the defense reform plan was announced in July, the ministry has been working on an action plan and seeking to brief President Moon Jae-in on it. Choi said the presidential briefing would take place by the end of this year.

According to Choi, KIDA conducted the research around October when the two Koreas were trying to implement a comprehensive inter-Korean military pact. The military agreement was signed during Moon’s September trip to Pyongyang where he met with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un.

“We don’t believe the research will be briefed to (President Moon Jae-in) as a separate military reform plan. ... But we are going to stress the need for the research in accordance with the changed security environment.”

While the spokesperson declined to reveal the details of the KIDA research, it is reported to have called for South Korea to prepare for a “new threat” when there is significant progress on North Korea’s denuclearization efforts.

The progressive Hankyoreh newspaper reported Sunday that such ideas would be implemented when North Korea takes irreversible denuclearization measures and the risk of inter-Korean conflicts are dramatically reduced.

“If there is continued progress on denuclearization and inter-Korean relations, change in the current military structure is inevitable” the research paper said, according to the newspaper. “Given the risks and difficulties of changing the vast military structure, we need a separate plan.”

When the Defense Ministry announced a defense reform plan in July, the military said it would proceed with establishing advanced an anti-missile system as planned. Last week, the government said it would spend some 5.7 trillion won ($5.06 billion) next year to build the system by mid-2020.

As South Korea’s three-layered system, the scheme consists of the Kill Chain pre-emptive strike system, Korea Air Missile Defense system and Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation plan aimed at North Korea’s leadership.