May 03, 2010 13:11
President Lee Myung-bak presides over a meeting of top military commanders Tuesday to investigate the preparedness of troops. This is the first time that a president is presiding over a meeting that involves all officers in the Army, Navy and Air Force above the rank of lieutenant general or vice admiral.
The sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan was a sobering reminder of the security threat South Korea faces. If national security is compromised, the country's economic, political and cultural achievements over the decades could end up being destroyed. If people have to worry constantly about submarine attacks, infiltrations by armed North Korean commandos and barrages of artillery raining down over their heads at any moment, the country's economy will not be able to grow and they will live in misery. Security is like oxygen that a nation cannot live without even though people fail to notice its importance in everyday life. This has become crystal clear in the sinking of the Cheonan.
The fact that South Korea's economy is 38 times larger than North Korea's does not mean that the South would be capable of overpowering the North in an armed confrontation. North Korea remains in a constant state of war. South Korea cannot flex its economic muscle if its highways become paralyzed by bombing, its power grids and communication networks knocked out and ports crippled by torpedoes.
The military strengths of North and South Korea cannot be compared solely in terms of the technological sophistication of the South's Aegis destroyers and precision-guided missiles. North Korea has "asymmetrical" weapons for surprise, preemptive attacks. Its 100,000-strong special forces troops are capable of invading South Korea by clandestine methods that are difficult to predict and to detect. It is true that North Korea's Navy is no match for South Korea's, but the North has 70 submarines that are capable of secretly infiltrating the South's waters and sinking large warships with a single torpedo. South Korea's strategy of pursuing a large, high-tech Navy by deploying Aegis-class destroyers and 14,000-t landing ships -- the largest in Asia -- is being criticized for failing to address the unique threat posed by North Korea. The South's perception of its main enemy became fuzzier during the administrations of former presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun. And if this hazy sense of national security has affected priorities in the deployment of its military strength and weapons systems, it is time to rectify this quickly.
A country's military must be ready to respond swiftly and automatically if it is becomes the target of armed confrontation, even if it is the first time in decades. To make that possible, the military must have a set of responses ready for various forms and levels of aggression. Troops must practice continuously to maintain a constant state of battle readiness. The presidential meeting on Tuesday should not be a one-off publicity event. It must produce concrete measures that can convince the public that the military has changed since the Cheonan tragedy and serve as a starting point for such measures to be put into practice.
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