Defense chief-nominee vows air strikes if attacked
By Na Jeong-ju
The defense minister-nominee vowed Friday to use fighter jets to bomb North Korean targets in the event of an additional attack on South Korea, saying he considers the North Korean leadership and military as the country’s “main enemy.”
He also defended Seoul’s decision in June to postpone regaining wartime operational control from the United States by more than three years to December 2015, alleging the country’s military needs enough time to fully prepare for the transfer.
“Should the enemy attack our territory and people once again, we will fight back resolutely. I’ll order air strikes to completely remove the source of threats, if necessary,” Kim Kwan-jin said during a confirmation hearing at the National Assembly.
The nominee said he was considering defining the North Korean leadership and military, not its people, as the South’s main enemy in the defense white paper.
“What’s urgent now is to enhance combat readiness and build a strong military that is trusted by the people,” he said.
The 61-year-old former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was tapped by President Lee Myung-bak as the defense chief a week ago, just days after a South Korean border island in the West Sea was shelled by the North Korean military, the first attack on civilians since the 1950-53 Korean War. If approved by the National Assembly, he will succeed Kim Tae-young.
“Our military failed to carry out its basic duty of protecting the lives of the people and their properties,” Kim said, referring to the artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island and the North’s torpedoing in March of a South Korean naval ship that killed 46 sailors.
“We are now facing the most serious security crisis since the Korean War.”
The defense ministry confirmed that it was reviewing whether to use the term main enemy in describing the North’s military in the biennial defense paper, which will be published later this month.
Public criticism has been mounting here over the military’s alleged poor response to the shelling of Yeonpyeong, which killed two civilians and two marines as well as destroyed dozens of civilian homes.
The government has also come under fire for failing to take necessary measures even after the intelligence agency detected signs of a possible North Korean attack on one of the five western border islands in August.
President Lee vowed a firm response to further provocation by the Kim Jong-il regime, but his public support dipped sharply by more than 10 percentage points to about 30 percent following the attack, according to sources from the presidential office.
The minister-nominee said he will revise the rules of engagement to give more power to the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and to field commanders in determining the level of response to attacks by North Korea.