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Seoul should strengthen security vs Pyongyang

Publication Date : 19-12-2013

 

The volatile situation in North Korea following the execution of its young leader Kim Jong-un’s uncle and guardian, Jang Song-taek, is posing an immediate and serious security concern for South Korea, which has already been grappling with a complex set of disputes with neighboring powers.

During meetings with her senior secretaries and top security officials this week, President Park Geun-hye warned that the North might resort to “reckless provocations” to cover up internal vulnerabilities. As she noted, it remains uncertain how the North Korean situation will unfold, with speculations rampant over whether Kim would consolidate power or be dragged down with the collapse of his cruel and impoverished regime.

In the short term, South Korea should fully prepare itself against any possible North Korean hostility. The military must strengthen its vigilance and combined defense posture with the United States.

Over the longer term, Park’s government is faced with the task of handling the ruthless and reckless North Korean leader, who has nuclear arms at his disposal, to ensure security on the peninsula while preparing for an emergency in the North. What complicates this task is that the bloody shakeup inside Pyongyang’s power circle comes at a time when Seoul is having difficulty maintaining a united front with neighboring powers against the North.

South Korea’s ties with Japan have remained chilly for more than a year over historical and territorial issues, weakening trilateral military and security cooperation with the United States. Seoul officials also appear to have realized the limit, of South Korea’s strategic partnership with China, since Beijing’s unilateral declaration last month of its air defense zone over the East China Sea, which partially overlaps with South Korea’s zone.

The national security team formed by President Park has been criticized for lacking effective and sophisticated strategies to navigate through the rapid changes affecting the nation.

But political circles and social groups appear to be in no position to blame them as they are turning a blind eye to the growing security crisis, preoccupied with their partisan and organizational interests. It is no time for ruling party lawmakers to take to the streets to denounce a few opposition legislators’ excessive remarks aimed at President Park. Railway workers should not further hamper social and economic stability by continuing their illegal strike.

At this extraordinary time, it is necessary to strengthen the national security system and bipartisan cooperation to cope with external challenges facing the country. President Park was right to issue a directive this week to revive the standing secretariat of the National Security Council, which was abolished in 2008 as part of her predecessor Lee Myung-bak’s administrative overhaul. The NSC, which remains a presidential advisory body, should also be given more substantial authority to make key decisions based on a comprehensive review of security matters.

The main political parties need to form a bipartisan consultative body to coordinate their stances on North Korea and other issues involving neighboring powers. Above all, they should quickly reach an agreement on how to reform the state spy agency, which has been criticized for its alleged interference in last year’s presidential election. It is certainly necessary to eliminate the possibility of the National Intelligence Service meddling in domestic politics again, but it is also crucial to leave intact its capability to cope with security threats.

President Park is advised to deal with the opposition in a more flexible and compromising manner to secure this bipartisan cooperation. A concerted stance by political circles is all the more necessary to maintain the consistency of policies toward North Korea after Park leaves office in four years’ time, while Kim Jong-un continues to remain in power. The ruthlessness, recklessness and unpredictability Kim showed in purging his uncle should prompt the main parties to strengthen bipartisan coordination.

 

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