Following is the first in a series of articles on the major tasks and key members of President-elect Park Geun-hye’s transition team, which began operation Sunday. ― Ed.
From retooling North Korea policy to preparing for retaking wartime operational control, the presidential transition team’s subcommittee on foreign policy, defense and unification is inundated with tough tasks.
President-elect Park Geun-hye has appointed former Defense Minister Kim Jang-soo to head the panel that also includes Yun Byung-se, a former presidential security adviser, and Choi Dae-seok, director of the Institute of Unification Studies at Ewha Womans University.
Atop its priority list is fleshing out Park’s North Korea policy to build inter-Korean trust and reduce tension. She also seeks to involve the international community in efforts to shore up the North’s debilitated economy.
|President-elect Park Geun-hye presides over a general meeting of the transition committee on Monday. (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)|
Yun and Choi have played a crucial role in mapping out Park’s policy vision for the communist neighbor that emphasizes trust, balance and flexibility.
Yun has stressed a strong South Korea-U.S. alliance based on which Seoul can exert more flexibility in reaching out to Pyongyang rather than sticking to a strictly reciprocal policy with preconditions that the North resists.
Choi has underscored a balanced approach to the North.
“Focusing too much on security, the inter-Korean relationship could become deadlocked. Focusing too much on exchanges and cooperation, the foundation of national security could waver. We will not make this mistake,” Choi said at a recent policy debate.
Another key task for the panel is to set up a national security control tower under the presidential office ― one of Park’s election pledges aimed at handling security and diplomatic issues more consistently, efficiently and effectively.
Observers say that the institution may consist of experts on defense, diplomacy and unification. Some raise concern that its function could overlap that of the current presidential secretary for foreign affairs and security.
For the head of the body, both Kim and Yun are mentioned as potential candidates.
Kim is also seen as the likely candidate for the National Intelligence Service chief while Yun has been mooted for the foreign minister post. Choi is seen as a possible candidate for unification minister.
The next government is also to take the South Korea-U.S. alliance’s most crucial task in the coming years ― the transfer of wartime operational control slated for December 2015.
Following the OPCON transfer, the South Korean military will lead wartime operations with the U.S. providing a supporting role. The allies are in consultation over a new combined command structure at a joint working group, which was established on Dec. 21. The current Combined Forces Command is to be dissolved following the transfer.
The subcommittee envisions establishing a combined battle staff consisting of a South Korean commander, a U.S. deputy commander and other officers from the allied militaries.
Apart from the command apparatus, the next government is also to finish formulating joint plans with the U.S. to deal with the North’s provocations and possible contingencies in the North such as a sudden collapse of the regime.
For the joint plan to handle provocations, the major issue is the scope of a potential counterattack. Seoul argues that it should launch a counterstrike on the supporting forces as well the origin of the provocation.
But Washington appears uneasy about Seoul taking too aggressive a stance due to the risk of provocations escalating into a full-blown war, which could drag both the U.S. and China in at a time both powers are struggling with domestic challenges.
For the possible contingencies, the allies have yet to officially develop their conceptual plan into an operational one.
The subcommittee is also expected to determine a basic policy line about defense reform.
The Lee Myung-bak administration had pushed for the military overhaul aimed at enhancing cooperation among the three armed services and making the top commanding structure “strong, speedy and slim.” But the efforts had foundered amid resistance from retired generals and other experts.
Kim appears opposed to the reform plan proposed by the Lee government.
“We should not overlook the (administrative) role of the chiefs of (the three armed services) to educate and train troops during peacetime and provide the forces during wartime,” Kim said during a press meeting last week.
Under the reform plans, the Defense Ministry sought to put four-star chiefs of the Army, Navy and Air Force under the operational control of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and merge the military command and administration.
Currently, the top officials of the three services only have the authority to lead personnel management, education, logistical support and other administrative affairs. They do not have authority to direct military operations.
Kim served as defense minister from 2006-2008 under late former President Roh Moo-hyun. He is known for not nodding to late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il while shaking hands with the strongman when he was in Pyongyang to accompany Roh during the inter-Korean summit in 2007.
From 2008-2012, Kim served as proportional representative lawmaker of the Grand National Party, predecessor to the current ruling Saenuri Party. Over the recent years, he has helped Park’s campaign.
Yun, former career diplomat, served as senior presidential secretary for security and diplomacy for Roh. Though he joined Park’s campaign late, he has played a crucial role in formulating her diplomatic policy.
Choi is known to have been a close associate to Park. His father is Choi Jae-gu, former four-term lawmaker and close associate of the incoming leader’s late father, former president Park Chung-hee.
By Song Sang-ho (email@example.com