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Moon tells military it’s time for reforms

July 28,2018
President Moon Jae-in on Friday called for a transformation in the military, saying if it did not accept change now it would “inevitably fall behind,” in a speech at the Blue House.

Speaking before top military officials including Defense Minister Song Young-moo, the vice minister and all commanders of the Army, Navy and Air Force, Moon said the military should push ahead with defense reforms as if it were the last opportunity to do so.

“While there are efforts underway for peace on the Korean Peninsula, it is also true that unconventional and potential threats are on the rise in reality,” Moon said. “The fourth industrial revolution standing before us will completely change the paradigm of war and national defense.”

At a rare meeting bringing together the commander in chief and high-ranking military officials, Moon - a former Special Forces commando - was briefed on the so-called Defense Reform 2.0 Project, a blueprint on how to upgrade the military’s readiness and effectiveness and help it adapt to changing demographics. Moon approved the plan at the meeting.

One military plan included in the project is an ambitious plan to take over Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, in the event of war. The plan involves the South Korean military alone, without the help of United States Forces Korea.

The unilateral action scenario was included despite a recent thaw in inter-Korean relations and diplomacy that has heightened hopes for a permanent peace regime and North Korea’s denuclearization.

The so-called Multidimensional Mobile Operation would send two brigades to Pyongyang by air in choppers and planes of the Army and Air Force. Marines would make amphibious landings while also sending units across the border to reinforce airborne units. In the plan, the military envisions taking control of Pyongyang within two weeks.

“While there are have been [positive] changes in inter-Korean relations, military reductions [by the two Koreas] or actual denuclearization [of North Korea] have yet to take place,” a government source was quoted as saying by the JoongAng Ilbo Friday. “But [the plan’s] contents are subject to change depending on South-North relations going forward.”

In his speech Friday, Moon said the basic direction of the Defense Reform 2.0 Project was to “make the military always stand ready to respond at any time or changing situation.

“While inter-Koreans relations are improving and efforts to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula are underway, how things will end up still remains uncertain,” said Moon, who passed the bar exam to become a human right lawyer after completing his military service as a Special Forces commando in his 20s.

Other reform measures include downsizing South Korea’s current 618,000-strong military to 500,000 by 2022 by shedding 118,000 positions in the Army. Along with reducing the number of conscripted soldiers, the military is also seeking to gradually shorten the conscription period.

By 2021, the military aims to reduce mandatory service in the Army and Marines from 21 months to 18 months, in the Navy from 23 to 20 and in the Air Force from 24 to 20.

Under the blueprint, the military will continue to develop its three-axis system, which refers to the Kill Chain pre-emptive strike system, the Korean Air and Missile Defense (KAMD) and the Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation (KMPR), designed to incapacitate North Korea’s leadership in the event of war.

The blueprint also envisions the South Korea joint chiefs of staff becoming commander of the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command once wartime operational control (Opcon) is transferred to South Korea from the United States. The timing of the Opcon transfer has not been determined.

The military also aims to slash the number of generals in the Army, Air Force and Navy from the current 436 to 360 by 2022. The largest cut comes from the Army, 66, while the Navy and Air Force will reduce their generals by five each.

Touching on an ongoing scandal over the military’s drawing up of a martial law plan last year in case the Constitutional Court restored impeached President Park Geun-hye to power and angry mobs took to the streets, Moon issued a grave warning: “The military should be afraid of the people.”

Another revelation in that scandal was that the military monitored relatives of the victims of the Sewol ferry sinking in 2014 under the assumption that some were anti-government.

“The Defense Security Command’s monitoring of families of victims of the Sewol ferry sinking and consideration of martial law is outdated and deviant conduct that should not ever happen,” said Moon. He called on the military to come up with ways to reform the Defense Security Command, which was behind the martial law plan and the monitoring of the relatives, hinting at a far-reaching overhaul of the military’s intelligence unit.

On the operational control transfer, Moon said receiving such control from the United States would be a “starting point for taking responsibility for defense on our own.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]