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National defense policy: Pursuing greater self-sufficiency in national defense

National Defense Policy: Pursuing Greater Self-Sufficiency in National Defense

Pursuing Greater Self-Sufficiency in National Defense
 
1. Historical Background and National Defense Posture
 
(1) Historical Background
The pursuit of greater self-sufficiency in national defense lasted for about two decades, from 1973 to 1992. Politically, the period encompasses the Fourth Republic under the Park Chunghee administration, the Fifth Republic under the Chun Doohwan administration, and the Sixth Republic under the Roh Taewoo administration. It was during this period that the military buildup program known as the “Yulgok Project” was launched, fostering national defense research and development as well as related industries.


The period also coincided with the escalation of the Cold War between U.S. and USSR-led camps worldwide. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc in the late 1980s not only gave birth to modern-day Russia, but also ushered in bewildering political changes in Northeast Asia at large, intensifying the rivalry between the two Koreas, and turning Japan and China into major players in the region alongside the United States and Russia. North Korea continued its military buildup throughout the 1970s, and revisited its policy regarding the South so as to maintain an upper hand in the escalating rivalry.

In the meantime, South Korea and the United States continued to strengthen their military alliance, with the USFK wielding operational control over the Korean forces not only in wartime, but in peacetime as well. Although Korea benefitted from the security umbrella provided by the United States, anti-American sentiments began to escalate when the United States aided and abetted the Korean military government’s oppression of the Gwangju Democratic Movement in 1980.
Economy-wise, it was during this period that Korea finally joined the ranks of middle-income developing countries and came near to the league of advanced economies worldwide. The process of economic development indeed unfolded at an astonishing pace, along with the fast integration of the Korean economy into the world. Yet the Korean government suffered a serious crisis of legitimacy under military-officers-turned-presidents Park Chunghee and Chun Doohwan, until finally a semblance of democratic legitimacy was restored with the election of President Roh Taewoo. Political vicissitudes, such as the assassination of Park Chunghee, the rise of the new military elite, and the Gwangju Democratization Movement, continued to fuel political instability and repression. With the June 29 Declaration of the late 1980s, however, civil society began to take root and flourish in Korea, with the bustling activities of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
The MND launched the 15-year Yulgok Project in 1974, a project aimed at strengthening military competence and realizing self-sufficiency in national defense. The combined Korea-U.S. military exercises, including the Ulchi Focus Lenses, also grew in rigor and effectiveness. Changes were made to military mobilization and service systems as well to reflect changes in society at large. The defense planning and management system was also improved to rationalize the use of defense resources.
 
(2) National Defense Posture
During this period, North Korea revived its ambition of reuniting the two Koreas by communizing the South, insinuating the possibility of another war. Though the North had responded positively to the invitation to dialogue with the South, it continued to dig underground tunnels to infiltrate South Korea, using disarmament talk as a deceptive rhetorical device only. North Korea significantly revised its strategy regarding the South in the 1980s, aiming to besiege the South politically, ideologically, organizationally, externally, and militarily. North Korea also launched a series of daring military moves and local provocations against the South, including the Axe Murder incident at Panmunjeom in 1976, the infiltration of South Korea by armed communist guerillas, the graveyard explosion at Aung San in Burma in 1983, and psychological warfare.

In the meantime, South Korea’s capacity for conventional warfare amounted to a mere 65 percent or so of North Korea’s as of the end of 1988. Even counting the resources of the USFK, the combined Korea-U.S. capacity for war only reached 70 percent of the North’s,[1] indicating that South Korea would barely be able to deter another all-out war with the North. North Korea, on the other hand, began reverse-engineering and developing the Soviet Scud missile and launcher in 1976, the blueprints of which it imported from Egypt, and succeeded in incorporating the Scud missiles into its strategies between 1984 and 1988.

South Korea sought to counter and manage these military threats from North Korea—threats aided by China and the Soviet Union (later Russia)—by building and reinforcing its alliance with the United States. The efforts to build up the combined military capacity with the United States and establish the Korea-U.S. alliance as a major pillar of security in Northeast Asia included a number of new exercises, both combined and independent. In 1976, a series of new wartime preparation exercises, including the Foal Eagle (FE), Team Spirit, and the Ulchi Focus Lenses (UFL) exercises were launched, reflecting rising anxieties over the end of the Vietnam War and the communist victory.
The Team Spirit Exercise was the first combined wartime preparation exercise. The UFL Exercise involved close and intricate coordination between Korea and the United States at the level of national governments and general command posts. The FE Exercise, organized jointly by the two countries, has been used to reinforce the Combined Forces’ capabilities against nonconventional warfare since 1986.

Between 1977 and 1981, the Comprehensive Exercise against Metropolitan Area Infiltration was expanded to the entire military organization nationwide under the new name, the Hwarang Exercise. This exercise involved the operational elements and resources of not only the military, but also the private sector and the government. Other large-scale joint exercises that were in effect as of 1988 included the Sangmu, Donghae, Pilseung, and Tongil exercises.
 

 
[1]As of 1988, South Korea possessed 650,000 troops (550,000 for the Army, 60,000 for the Navy, and 40,000 for the Air Force) to North Korea’s 870,000 (760,000 for the Army, 40,000 for the Navy, and 70,000 for the Air Force). South Korea had 10 corps, 48 divisions, and 15 brigades ready for mobilization, whereas North Korea had 15 corps, 55 divisions, and 61 brigades. The South Korean military’s ground equipment included 1,500 tanks, 1,550 armored vehicles, and 7,800 field artillery guns, while North Korea had 3,500 tanks, 1,960 armored vehicles, and 7,800 field artillery guns. South Korea’s marine equipment included 300 naval ships, paling in comparison to North Korea’s 630. South Korea also had only 480 tactical aircraft, barely one-half of North Korea’s 820 (MND, 1988, 146-152).

Source: Korea Institute of Public Administration. 2008. Korean Public Administration, 1948-2008, Edited by Korea Institute of Public Administration. Pajubookcity: Bobmunsa.