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신원식 “여성 징병제 전혀 고려 안 해”

By Kim Arin

Published : Jan. 24, 2024 - 15:12

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신원식 국방부 장관이 본지와 인터뷰 하고 있다. [사진=코리아헤럴드] 신원식 국방부 장관이 본지와 인터뷰 하고 있다. [사진=코리아헤럴드]

[코리아헤럴드=김아린 기자] 신원식 국방부 장관은 병력 감소 문제의 해법이 될 수 없다며 여성 징병제를 반대하는 입장을 밝혔다.

신 장관은 22일 본지와 인터뷰에서 병력 부족의 대안으로 거론되고 있는 여성 징병제에 대해 “국방부의 정책으로 전혀 고려하거나 검토하고 있지 않다”며 선을 그었다.

이어 여성 의무 복무는 “매우 신중한 접근과 사회적 합의가 필요하다”면서, “여성이 지원할 수 있는 폭을 넓혀 여군 비율을 확대하려 굉장히 노력하고 있지만, 의무를 지우는 것은 완전히 다른 차원”이라고 말했다.

다만 국방부는 “인구감소에 따른 병역자원의 감소가 안보위기로 이어질 수 있다는 상황을 엄중하게 인식하고, 이를 타개해 나가기 위한 정책들을 추진하고 있다”고 덧붙였다.

최근 정치권을 중심으로 여성 징병제를 논의해야 한다는 주장이 다시 제기됐는데, 이를 두고 신 장관은 “공론장에선 정책에 찬성하는 사람들의 목소리가 과대 대표되기 쉽다”며 주의해야 한다고 말했다.

그러면서 “반대하는 쪽은 침묵을 하는 경우도 많아, 논의 확산 그 자체만으로 정책이 다수의 지지를 받고 있다고 생각을 하면 오류를 범할 수 있다”고 했다.

앞서 신 장관은 후보자 시절 국회 국방위원회에 제출한 서면 답변에서 “사회적 합의가 부족한 상황에서 여성 징병제 도입 논의는 군의 역량을 강화하기보단 성평등을 둘러싼 쟁점만 야기할 수 있다”며 부정적인 의견을 피력했다.

〈원문 기사〉

Kim Jong-un nostalgic for engagement diplomacy of Trump era: Seoul defense chief

Shin Won-sik, the minister of national defense of South Korea, says North Korean leader Kim Jong-un could carry out a nuclear weapons test at any time this year if he believes he could gain what he wants from the next US president by doing so.

In an interview with The Korea Herald on Monday, the South Korean defense chief said North Korea’s Kim may seek to leverage the US presidential election in November to get the incoming administration in Washington to accede to his demands.

North Korea may try to “push to the brink” of a security crisis by intensifying weapons tests and simulations of attacks on South Korea and the US, if Kim Jong-un is “let to believe doing so could make the next US administration give him want he wants,” he said.

The response came after The Korea Herald asked if he thought a nuclear test by North Korea was viable this year in the context of the presidential election in the US.

“For several years since the last time North Korea tested a nuclear bomb in 2017, which was its sixth, Kim Jong-un did not actually go through with his threats of conducting a seventh test,” he said. “That’s because we made sure not to give him any reason to think another nuclear test would work out in his favor.”

The calculus for Kim could soon change with the US presidential election coming up late this year, he said. And Kim could act out with even more provocations, seeking to return to a time when he could threaten Seoul and Washington into favors.

“Kim Jong-un would surely love to turn the clock back to the years he misses most, 2016 and 2017, when he was still able to weaponize climbing tensions on the Korean Peninsula,” he said.

The minister said the North Korean leader would seek to make the year 2025, when a new administration is in charge in the US, “once again like 2018,” in an apparent reference to the US-North Korea summit in Singapore. Then-President Donald Trump met with the Kim in an unprecedented move for a sitting US leader.

“The best time for Kim Jong-un to have nuclear weapons was the year 2018,” he said. “Kim launched ballistic missiles and conducted a sixth nuclear test in 2017. Then when he waved the olive branch in early 2018, South Korea and the US were so swept off our feet.”

He said that Kim “must be nostalgic for the US-North Korea diplomacy of that era.”

“He will be watching for signs in the US for a possible retreat from a policy of sanctions and toward one of appeasement once again, and which presidential candidates support such a change,” he said.

Such North Korea rhetoric from potential US presidents “will signal to him that the advantages of testing his nuclear arsenal could outweigh the disadvantages, like before,” Shin said. “In which case, he would feel emboldened to undertake a nuclear test any time.”

Politics aside, the minister said “at least a couple of tests is essential” for North Korea to verify the reliability of its newly developed tactical nuclear weapons and high-yield hydrogen bombs. Intelligence authorities in Seoul said earlier this month that the need for another nuclear test was “higher than before” for North Korea, citing the Hwasan-31 warheads unveiled in March last year.

“The perceived strategic gains and the military necessity are two important benchmarks for determining whether a seventh nuclear test will be carried out, I think,” he said, adding that a lot of variables were at play.

The minister warned that the North Korean leader “would be absolutely mistaken to think there is more for him to gain than to lose from an additional nuclear test.”

He said “the fortified bilateral nuclear deterrence” built under the current Joe Biden administration together with South Korea has ensured “no nuclear assault from North Korea will be tolerated, ever.”

“Such an attempt would mean the end of the Kim Jong-un regime. He will be faced to realize the choice will come down to his survival or nukes,” he said.