North Korea may no longer be described as South Korea’s official enemy in the government’s soon-to-be-published defense white paper, with the two Koreas accelerating efforts to reduce cross-border military tension and improve socioeconomic ties.
According to defense officials here on Wednesday, the Ministry of National Defense will seek to have its 2018 defense white paper stop referencing the North Korean military as an enemy to South Korea.
Instead, the term “enemy” is likely to be applied to “every force that threatens the lives and property” of South Korea, the officials said. Such a description will be included in the first defense white paper since President Moon Jae-in took office in 2017.
“Given the unprecedented peaceful mood for inter-Korean relations, the government is being extremely careful about describing North Korea,” said a government source, requesting anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.
The Defense Ministry has published white papers every two years to outline South Korea’s security threats and military policy. The latest 2016 white paper stated that North Korea remains an enemy as long as it poses military threats.
|Army chief of staff Gen. Kim Yong-woo visited the DMZ last month to observe the destruction work of guard posts. Yonhap|
Since the Moon administration improved ties with North Korea earlier this year, speculation has been rampant among defense officials here that North Korea would no longer be described as an official enemy in the 2018 defense paper.
In August, when the militaries of the two Koreas pushed for a series of trust-building measures, there were reports that the Defense Ministry was seeking to stop using the term “enemy” in describing the North Korean military and the communist regime’s ruling family.
“Those who pose a threat to the lives and property of the South Korean territory, water and airspace are deemed as enemies. … That is my definition of an enemy and that is what I have ordered my staff,” then-Defense Minister Song Young-moo told lawmakers in August.
The move appears to reflect South Korea’s efforts to maintain a mood for peace with North Korea, as Seoul prepares for a flurry of diplomacy aimed at removing Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.
Although denuclearization talks between North Korea and the US have stalled since their first summit in Singapore in June, the Moon administration, which seeks engagement, hopes they will see a breakthrough next year.
South Korea hopes that Kim Jong-un will visit Seoul early next year to fulfil his promise made during his summit with Moon in September. Moon expects the North Korean leader’s first trip to the South’s capital could pave the way for the second US-North Korea summit.
There are concerns, however, among hawkish politicians critical of Moon’s engagement with North Korea. They said that not describing North Korea as an enemy would undermine the military’s readiness posture amid the North’s lingering military threats.
“North Korea is the only force that threatens South Korea. But the government is seeking to remove North Korea from the enemy list to cater to Kim Jong-un’s needs,” Rep. Kim Jin-tae of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party said on his Facebook account Wednesday.
The debate over whether to describe North Korea as the South’s main enemy has been a recurring theme in South Korea’s rancorous politics. Depending on political ideology and inter-Korean relations, previous administrations have taken differing stances.
The first time that North Korea was referenced in the white paper as the main enemy was 1995, a year after a North Korean delegate threatened to turn Seoul into a “sea of flames” during inter-Korean talks.
The description has come under scrutiny since the Kim Dae-jung administration pursued rapprochement with North Korea. In 2004, the phrase “main enemy” was replaced with “direct military threat” by the Roh Moo-hyun administration, which followed Kim Dae-jung’s engagement policy.
But the expression was brought back in 2010, when North Korea was blamed for torpedoing South Korean warship Cheonan. Since then, the white papers have said the North Korean regime and army constitute an enemy as long as its military threat persists