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A dangerous schism

June 01,2017
The Blue House said Wednesday that the Ministry of National Defense had intentionally deleted sensitive wording from a briefing for President Moon Jae-in. Though a draft report specified that a total of six launchers for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system (Thaad) were safely held at a U.S. military base in South Korea, the number ended up as two in the ministry’s final briefing of the president, the presidential office says. Asked by new National Security Office chief Chung Eui-yong what happened, Defense Minister Han Min-koo said he was not aware of that, according to a Blue House spokesperson.

If that’s the case, we are dumbfounded. As the Blue House has kicked off a full-fledged investigation, we may have to wait a while to learn the whole truth. But there’s clearly a tug of war going on between the Blue House and the defense ministry focused on who was behind the rewording of the report — and why information was withheld. If the ministry really changed the number because a new administration critical of the Thaad deployment is now in power, that’s a serious attempt at obfuscation of the country’s leader.

The ministry seems to have been acting in a political way from the initial stage of the controversy over Thaad. We can understand it if the ministry acted that way due to a need for so-called strategic ambiguity. But the ministry has frequently switched its positions and disappointed the public.

At the same time, the Blue House needs to understand that the Thaad deployment is a complex question involving our geopolitical circumstances. It is also the new administration’s most urgent diplomatic challenge and an international issue that can affect the foundations of the Korea-U.S. alliance and Korea-China relations. The government must not allow a schism between the presidential office and the defense ministry to develop.

Since the Blue House’ probe of the incident, the Thaad deployment may have to stop for a while. The four additional launchers cannot be activated anytime soon. Public criticism of the deployment is spreading. While opposition parties believe the presidential office is attempting to sway public opinion to support a cancellation of the deployment, the Pentagon insists the deployment procedure was transparent. Our internal friction could also damage a summit in June in Washington between Moon and U.S. President Donald Trump.

If our military really committed a grave mistake, it should be corrected immediately. But an internal fight over such a critical security issue only invites disaster.

JoongAng Ilbo, June. 1, Page 34