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Monthly Archives: June 2012

The signing of the ROK-Japan General Security Of Military Information Agreement, the highly controversial military pact between SK (do I have to mention that the ROK is the official name of SK?)  and Japan, was postponed indefinitely just 40 minutes before its appointed signing ceremony. This case has clearly demonstrated what the republic lacks: democracy at least its procedural means, diplomatic dignity and a concept of citizen, upon which the republic is established.

The public’s resentment over the military pact needs no explanation: Japan colonized Korea for 35 years and lots of issues rooted in this colonial rule, including the comfort women issue, are still unresolved. However, if there may be actual benefits through the pact, we should consider it seriously and try to persuade the public. The MB government didn’t do none of these: it couldn’t prove its usefulness and didn’t tried to persuade the public–instead it tried to deceive the public by handling this surreptitiously as an impromptu item at the Cabinet meeting.

Before we go over more about its procedural issue, we should review the potential outcomes of the ROK-Japan GSOMIA. Japan’s information gathering assets outnumber that of SK. Sharing information seems to be expanding the capability of recognizing possible threats, especially from the north, for both countries. But in the recent cases, history tells us differently.

In 2009, Japan raised a couple of false alarms over the North Korean rocket launch. Not all information gathered is useful by itself. It requires expertise and experience to distill off the noises and extract the proper signals. Only after that there comes what we call intelligence. The flutter that heavily embarrassed the Japanese government shows its incompetence of that. Further than that, Japanese defense minister announced the recent NK rocket launch after the US and SK had announced the launch and its failure.

We used to think that we can attain more accurate intelligence when we combine various sources as much as possible. What we used to forget is that the noise, as well as the signal, amplifies as we put more sources into consideration. Bear in mind that SK still maintains DEFCON 4 even in the peacetime and imagine what would happen if shared information from Japan raises a false alarm in a case of a strained situation between the north and the south.

By dealing the pact clandestinely, the MB government again showed its anti-democratic nature internationally. President Lee Myung-bak himself tried to rush the pact through in his absence, undoubtedly to eschew criticism alone, again proved himself as the most miserable leader of the country ever.

At this point, I can’t resist myself to raise this question: is SK truly a republic? Wiktionary says a republic means “a state where sovereignty rests with the people or their representatives, rather than with a monarch or emperor.” It is astounding that the government was able to deal a critical issue like this pact alone, without an approval of the National Assembly. Even its deferring was due to the personal demand of the floor leader of the ruling party. A democratic procedure was nowhere to be found. The members of the Assembly, stop dabbling with no-work-no-pay principle, to which you won’t stick anyway, and get your own piece of meat right.

It was personally astounding to find out that even before establishing civilian control over the military, we have to establish the republic above all. From where should we start over?

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There is a now-classic saying in SK that everyone becomes a professional military analyst right after having served his duty. In a country where every male citizen is obliged to serve the duty (however this doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone actually serves), sometimes things military become funny–probably this wouldn’t happen often in where conscription isn’t in implementation. (Almost) everyone has served the duty and shares experience, memories and knowledge so (almost) everyone has an opinion, everyone has something to say about military issues. Unfortunately, this used to be grumbling, which lacks a political, strategic and diplomatic perspective. I don’t blame them at all. We don’t need everyone to be a strategist.

Still there has to be someone, better-informed and with her own philosophy, who presents such a perspective to the public. Be it a journalist, a pundit or an expert, we need her anyway. But this is what the South Korean defense journalism lacks.

First of all, it is hard to find a dedicated defense reporter in the SKorean journalism scene. In most media outlets, journalists work in rotation. How can we expect professionalism from a journalist who will be reassigned to a city desk two or three years later? Working in rotation might makes sense to civil servants, in case of corruption, but journalists, at least in a certain department, are required professionalism. Because it is their job to inform the public, they ought to know more and better.

However, the situation does not mitigate when it comes to a handful of dedicated reporters from the privileged outlets. They just can’t be differentiated from the rotating ones, reiterating press releases without an analysis. To put it bluntly, I wonder what they do exactly, except playing a round of golf courses or hitting hell of the booze with the MoD officials.

For a recent example, a dedicated defense reporter from the Chosun reported that the USFK commander Gen. James Thurman unofficially proposed to keep the Combined Forces Command even after the handover of full operational command of Korean troops in (hopefully) Dec. 2015. This means a lot, especially to the US-loving and Roh-and-DJ-hating conservatives, since the most conspicuous proof of the US-Korean alliance is a tripwire that named the US Army around the MDL.

The Chosun covered this story in the front for two days in a row, emphasizing its significance. But how did they come to believe that a local forces commander can affect the policy that reached agreement between the summits of two countries? The MoD and USFK both deny the report after the Chosun releases and it seems that the Chosun stretched too far with the general’s private comment.

The issue of professionalism also matters here. What if the reporter in question (he is the most renowned defense reporter in SK) had pondered a bit more about how much a local forces commander’s opinion, even though the commander has four stars on his cap, can affect upon the US foreign policy? Or maybe the desk might have pushed too far on this, considering the tone of the Chosun on the US-Korea relation.

The serious lack of professionalism in the SK defense journalism let the ipse dixit just flow around the public. The establishment of full civilian control in SK is still a long way from where we stand and the role of journalism as a watchdog cannot be exaggerated at this point of time. Even the question of quis custodiet ipsos custodes can’t be an issue here–there are no proper watchmen at the first place.

Originally posted on the July’s issue of Defense 21+ in Korean, I abridged the description of the event itself and focused on what the event means and implies.

At last, Brig. General Neil Tolley, USFK Special Operation Commander was fired after his slip of tongue that USFK was sending special operation forces to North Korea to spy on the NK’s underground military infrastructures. Details about what actually happened can be found on David Axe’s blog posts.

Where are you now, general?

My points about this happening are, firstly, is there a plan to send special forces to NK in case of contingencies? And secondly, annoyingly gruff manner of the public affairs office of USFK made things worse–and this wasn’t the first time.

Is there a plan to send special forces to NK?

Tim Shorrock, in an article posted on Foreign Policy In Focus, mentions the secret DIA report prepared in 1982. The subject of the report was SK Special Forces’ new wartime mission and the mission was to infiltrate “into the far northern provinces of North Korea near the Manchurian border.” This may be interesting to some readers, including myself, but his article is pointless and might be misleading. After all the rambling about the secret document, is his conclusion that anybody writing about U.S. Special Forces should look more deeply into the history of U.S.-Korea ties? Where is something that “may shed some light on a U.S. general’s outlandish claim?” Am I the only one who were expecting to be informed about a secret U.S. plan to send special forces to NK?

What the secret DIA report tells us is no more than how SK Special Forces were exploited politically to repress dissident citizens. The plan to insert two Special Forces brigades to the northern provinces of NK might have been put on to conceal its actual intention. It is not unreasonable to believe that there is a U.S. plan to put special forces to NK but his article tells nothing about it. A link-bait, I would say.

However, there was a secret reporting about sending special forces to NK. Not by the U.S. but SK. According to a military official, Minister of Defense Kim Kwan-jin surreptitiously reported on preparations for North Korean asymmetric threats to the President Lee in January last year. The preparations contain sending special forces to suppress North Korean missile sites and a review of the current strength of South Korean special forces, the source said.

Long before the rise of asymmetric threats, a consensus about Jus ad bellum, just cause for war was quite clear among the nations. Now the paradigm has been shifted and we perceive that from the controversies over preemptive war and, in recent times, Obama’s kill list. The line between preparedness and neurosis has never been thinner before.

We South Koreans still tend to think inside the old paradigm but the minister’s clandestine report shows us that even in SK, the paradigm has been shifted without any notices.

This wasn’t the first time the USFK PAO messed up

David Axe said, in his regret over the general’s firing, that the general “could have released a statement saying he had meant to speak hypothetically but was still quoted accurately” but he did only after having accused him of lying. Had he clarified his wording right after the report, he wouldn’t have given the audience an impression that he was fired because of his misleading words. This is definitely a failure of the public affairs office.

This wasn’t the first time the PAO caused a trouble. In last April, the defense correspondents’ association in SK, comprised of 25 media outlets, decided in its meeting to ask the USFK to change its authoritarian press guidelines.

The beginning of the discord was banning a reporter from The Korea Times from a press conference of Admiral Samuel Locklear, the commander of the U.S. Pacific Command. It seems that the underhand reason is that the reporter had turned down a PR team’s request to revise an interview article with an assistant chief of staff at the USFK. There was a serious distrust between the correspondents and the PR office at the USFK.

Stunning is that because of their distrust, defense correspondents decided to not change their misleading and exaggerated reports about the admiral’s comments. The reporter from The Korean Times was even considering write about the assistant chief of staff’s skepticism over SK’s push for defense reform, probably in revenge of the ban. Putting aside whether it’s ethical for journalists to refuse to correct their mischaracterized reports or to write in revenge, it is hard to say that the PAO is doing their job well.

The cases of the admiral and the brig. general are, basically, failures of media relations. On account of the rise of social media, even the slightest slip of the tongue stirs to the extent that history has never witnessed. The way military handles the media requires extreme care and swiftness nowadays and this is what I worry about the USFK.