Wikinews interviews specialists on South Korea military parade

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Sunday, October 6, 2013

File photo of South Korean military troops.
Image: US Military.

On Tuesday, South Korea staged a huge military parade to mark its armed forces' 65th anniversary in a display of long-range missiles considered a direct threat to North Korea. 11,000 troops and 190 different weapons systems were on display in the parade. Wikinews interviewed several specialists about the parade's possible significance.

Interviewees

Wikinews interviewed:

Wikinews Q&A

File:Robert Kelly File Photo.JPG

File photo of interviewee Robert Kelly.
Image: Robert Kelly.
(Image missing from commons: image; log)

Wikinews waves Left.png((WikinewsWikinews waves Right.png)) What is your job role?

Kelly: I am a Professor of International Relations at PNU.
Kosal: I am an Assistant Professor in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at the Georgia Institute of Technology, more commonly known as "Georgia Tech." I also direct the Emerging Technology and Security Program and the Biological and Chemical Nonproliferation and Counterterrorism Program.
Ledyard: I retired from my professorship at Columbia thirteen years ago; since then I've had no role. When I was active there since 1964, I taught Korean history and culture, emphasizing the traditional periods of Korea's earlier history. In those years I wrote a few articles on contemporary political issues but my research has been almost all in Korea's past.
Terry: I am a Senior Research Scholar at Columbia University's Weatherhead East Asian Institute.
Chi: I have been teaching Korean studies at Oxford University. I am specialized in international relations of the Far East and particularly North Korean human rights and refugee issues. I worked as an analyst of security issues at the Korea Institute for Defence Analyses in Seoul between 1983 and 1988 authoring a number of policy papers for the South Korean Government.
You: Associate Teaching Professor of Korean Studies teaching Korean Unification, Korean film, Korean society [at the University of Missouri].

Wikinews waves Left.png((WNWikinews waves Right.png)) Is the display of cruise missiles and other weapons in a military parade by South Korea in direct response to repeated similar North Korean parades?

Kelly: Yes. I don't actually think these sorts of demonstrations are proper in a democracy. Liberal states should not really be flashing their hardware in a strutting, provocative way like this. This is the sort of thing Putin would do. But SK's [South Korea's] case is rather exceptional. NK [North Korea] tries pretty regularly to bully SK, and as its nuclear and missile programs advance, SK deterrence become ever more important. So parades like this are a way of SK saying 'don't mess with us even though you have nukes.'
Kosal: The "display" was multi-functional. It shows the modern, indigenous conventional military capabilities of the South Korean forces. It was also to credibly communicate — literally show to the North — possession of an adequate deterrent force, a force that is both capable and credible. The underlying capacity supports the newly announced bilateral tailored deterrence strategy between South Korea and the United States. The military parade served to transparently show, in a largely passive/non-offensive/non-reactionary way, the capacity to follow through on that strategy that is directed at North Korea's offensive nuclear weapons, offensive chemical weapons, and offensive biological weapons programs rather than a more general deterrence strategy. There is much more to a tailored deterrence strategy, but that is one part of it. The specific declaratory policy highlights South Korea's responsibility to "continue to build reliable inter-operable response capabilities and to develop the Korean Air and Missile Defense system." These are largely passive defense measures to minimize the effects of a North Korean offensive attack and to reduce vulnerability of South Korean forces and civilians. It's part of the overall strategic defense posture.
While not commonly observed in the US, parades like this are not atypical for East Asia, particularly in conjunction with significant anniversaries. In this case, the parade also marked the 65th anniversary of the Republic of Korea [South Korea] Armed Forces. In addition to the international visibility, it also serves South Korean domestic politics and advances South Korean President Park Geun-hye's own strong national security policies.
Ledyard: It could very well be, but I have no knowledge regarding it. It has long been routine for both Koreas to compete in the headlines.
Terry: President Park is trying to make it clear to the North that this time, under her watch, Seoul is now serious about responding to future provocations by the North. South Korea's display of its missiles is meant to deter the North, to show the North that any provocation in the future would be met with strong retaliation.
Chi: The institution of the military parade has been a regular feature of the Armed Forces’ Day celebration in South Korea. Yet the display of the cruise missiles in the recent parade is designed to achieve specific purposes. One is obviously targeting at the North Korean regime as a warning for possible pre-emptive strikes on their conventional and nuclear missile sites. The other target is South Korean citizens who have been increasingly agitated about the possession of WMDs by its Northern counterpart and want to see some guarantee from their own government. Hence the parade is not only for displaying its military capabilities to its enemies but it is also playing a psychological game with its own people. Yet, Hyunmoo-3c, one of the cruise missiles displayed in the event, signals that the South Korean government’s perspective is no longer limited to the Korean peninsula. Hyunmoo-3c’s range of 1,500 km indicates that the Korean military oversees the entire Northeast Asian region as its strategic theatre. Such a wide strategic thinking is also behind the planned construction of the naval base in Jeju Island.
You: Not direct response. However, this parade has not been done for many years and resumed this year indicating [the] Park government would not tolerate any hostile action by North Korea.

File photo of interviewee Young-hae Chi.
Image: Young-hae Chi.

Wikinews waves Left.png((WNWikinews waves Right.png)) South Korea's President, Park Geun-hye, has warned of a "very grave" threat posed by North Korea. Would a military parade like this be more likely to encourage hostile behaviour?

Kelly: Not really, because NK already engages in so much hostile behavior it is hard to know how much more restraint SK show. My own sense is that SK demonstrates remarkable forbearance in the face of NK threats. If one thinks of how, e.g., the US or Israel would respond to such threats, SK looks downright gentle. So SK needs to signal both that it does not seek escalation, but also that it cannot be bullied. It's a tough balancing act, and this parade is to send that second message.
Kosal: Not necessarily. North Korean behavior is difficult to predict with any fidelity. The military parade, while it shows potential capacity, is a fundamentally passive (rather than active or reactive) form of behavior. Reinforces a consistent posture by the South Koreans and the US.
Ledyard: There is a sixty-year history of such back-and-forth with an impressive absence of active military conflict. It's tit for tat, and both sides either maintain the balance or one or the other loses face. It would take much more than a parade for actual conflict to erupt.
Terry: No, not in the long run although this kind of a military parade might provoke temporary, short-term hostile behavior by the North. The North has never been ideological or suicidal. Its chief goal always has been regime survival. It knows if a war were to break out, it will definitively lose to South Korea.
Chi: The South Korean government has been implementing military parades since 1956, and as such it is unlikely to encourage or discourage hostile behaviour.
You: Could be. North Korea already criticized [the] Park government about the recent parade and very bold move by the Park Government in negotiating family reunion and resuming of Diamond Mountains. However, I do not believe that North Korea will take any hostile action since the US Secretary of State, Kerry, is proposing North Korea a peaceful dialogue.

File photo of interviewee Margaret Kosal.
Image: Margaret Kosal.

Wikinews waves Left.png((WNWikinews waves Right.png)) Does the presence of US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel to this military parade show a further strengthening in the US–South Korea alliance?

Kelly: It does, but the Secretary's presence is more for the optics than substance. The US–Korean alliance was substantially strengthened about 4 years ago by the previous SK president. This is just a refresher that looks good on TV.
Kosal: Secretary of Defense Hagel's presence, along with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, shows the commitment of the United States to support its ally. The United States remains committed to the transfer of operational control (OPCON) to the South Koreans for general defense of South Korea. The US is also strongly committed to limiting proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. Their presence reinforces that to the North Koreans as well as to the international community.
Ledyard: It is simple routine in the USA–ROK alliance. South Koreans depend on it and the US takes care to show support.
Terry: Yes, it further showcases the depth of Washington's support for South Korea against any provocation from Pyongyang.
Chi: Certainly he is there to add symbolic strength to the alliance which tended to be weakened until recently. Behind his presence is the recent agreement to reconsider the planed transfer of the war-time operation control from the UN/US to the Korean army.
You: US–South Korea alliance is strong but it is a bit more complicated since [the] US is supporting Japan in arming in naval forces to check China, which is a great concern for South Korea and [the] South Korean people. This might cause some issues in US–South Korea alliance.

File photo of interviewee Gari Ledyard.
Image: Gari Ledyard.

Wikinews waves Left.png((WNWikinews waves Right.png)) North Korea's rhetoric vows the repeated bolstering of its nuclear arsenal to what it calls US military threats. Do you think a military parade of this type backed by the US is likely to influence further hostility?

Kelly: No, because NK must be permanently hostile toward the US and SK anyway. NK has no reason to exist as a separate, poorer Korean state, just as the GDR [East Germany] had no post-cold war reason to exist, unless SK and the US can be regularly described as the enemy. So NK doesn't want a war, but they certainly don't want a warm peace, as then NK then loses its raison d'etre.
Kosal: No, North Korea and its leadership are responsible for its choices, which are the primary source of instability on the Korean peninsula with potential regional effects.
Ledyard: The "military threats" are more a reflection of North Korea's fears than any concrete threats. They are more for internal DPRK [North Korea] efforts to keep its own population in tune with government policies.
Terry: No. I think it's important to remember Pyongyang's periodic provocations and its pursuit of nuclear arsenal are not reactions or self-defense measures against a threatening Seoul or Washington. Incapable of competing with economically flourishing South Korea, the North relies on bolstering its nuclear arsenal and on military and political brinkmanship to make up ground.
Chi: The two Koreas do the military parade almost routinely. South Korea will have a similar parade again when there is a new government in five years. It is unlikely the kind of parade to influence further hostility.
You: No, this is just symbolic. As a matter of fact, North Korea is very anxious to escape from the current gridlock and [the] US and South Korea do not give them plenty of reasons to go to the negotiating table.

File photo of interviewee Sue Mi Terry.
Image: Sue Mi Terry.

Wikinews waves Left.png((WNWikinews waves Right.png)) Do you think it is likely that North and South Korea may at some point in the near future be engaged in direct military action with each other?

Kelly: Minor skirmishes are possible, indeed likely, given the border confusion in the Yellow Sea. But a major conflict is highly unlikely, no matter what bluster comes from NK. The NKs would lose such a war, decisively in fact, and the NK elite would face the hangman in the South afterward. NK is much too far behind to win. So full-scale conflict is very unlikely.
Kosal: I hope not.
Ledyard: No. A year or two ago there was a naval incident that occurred in the West Sea, but both sides separated quickly, although the North shelled an island claimed by both the DPRK and the ROK. Neither side has anything to gain from any such incident.
Terry: The North's latest tactic — to return to diplomacy after provoking Seoul and Washington earlier this year — does not mean that the North has abandoned its timeworn brinkmanship strategy nor that it has shifted its nuclear policy. The North is likely to pursue more aggressive action down the road, attempting to ratchet up another sense of crisis, if it determines that its current peace ploy is not getting the concessions it seeks from Seoul. But while the North may provoke Seoul again with border skirmishes, or another missile or nuclear test, I think it will avoid direct military action with Seoul that will escalate to an all-out conflict. Again, Pyongyang will not risk outright hostilities that will lead to an all-out war.
Chi: You can never exclude possible exchanges of military actions within a limited range. At the time of North Korean attack on Yeonpyeong Island in November 2011, the South Korean Government made an official pledge to retaliate against any future military actions by North Korea. The government will face grave political consequences if it fails to live up to its own words. There is always a possibility of direct military actions but they will be more or less contained to a local level.
You: No, I would not think so. North Korea is more desperate to engage in a dialogue with South Korea and [the] US but they look for justification to go to the table. However, [the] Park government and US would not be simply welcoming them to the negotiating table. When they negotiate, they would be not generous or lenient to take all the North Korean offers.

A KPAF Ilyushin Il-76MD strategic airlifter in the mid-2000s, in Air Koryo markings.
Image: Regis Sibille.

Wikinews waves Left.png((WNWikinews waves Right.png)) This parade has been described as an Anti-North deterrence, do you think this will act as such?

Kelly: Yes. NK is moving more rapidly toward nuclearization and missilization than many had expected. NK pretty clearly has no intention of de-nuclearizing. That is simply not going to happen no matter how many SK and US political figures demand it. So now, SK must show that it can keep up and match, if not outrace, the NKs. This is why there is so much focus now on SK missile and BMD capabilities.
Kosal: Yes.
Ledyard: Again, nearly sixty years of history supports the view that neither side has any interest in actual military conflict.
Terry: To some degree, yes. It's good to remind the North of Seoul's capabilities, although as I said before, Kim Jong-un, like his father and grandfather before him, already knows any all-out conflict would result in the destruction of his regime.
Chi: South Korea’s possession of cruise missiles and other advanced technology such as drones had been an open secret. There is nothing new about this parade, hence little deterrence effect added to the existing military posture.
You: No, it would not act as such. Rather, it has domestic purpose to draw [the] South Korean public to concern more about South Korean military and national security in general. For the past decade, [the] South Korean public have been very critical of the role of military in society. Certainly, the Park government wants to rectify it.


Sources

Wikinews
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