Connect with us

World

Analysis-Moon’s push for South Korean military independence may echo far beyond his presidency

Published

on

October 22, 2021

By Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) – When South Korean President Moon Jae-in arrived this week at Seoul’s largest weapons expo ever https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/arriving-fighter-jet-skoreas-moon-urges-defence-industry-growth-2021-10-20 in the back seat of a fighter jet, he didn’t present the image of a leader bent on making peace with North Korea.

Under Moon, South Korea has not only continued many of the military programmes approved under his conservative predecessors, but pushed already large defence budgets to new highs, negotiated an end to U.S. restrictions on its missile programme, and announced plans for the nation’s first aircraft carrier, among a plethora of other advanced weapons https://www.reuters.com/business/aerospace-defense/skorea-successfully-tests-submarine-launched-ballistic-missile-blue-house-2021-09-15.

Advertisement

Whatever the outcome of Moon’s last-ditch efforts to a achieve a breakthrough with North Korea https://www.reuters.com/world/china/exclusive-north-south-korea-talks-over-summit-reopening-liaison-office-sources-2021-07-28 before he leaves office in May, that military buildup appears a lasting legacy.

It seems at odds with the liberal president’s drive to foster inter-Korean peace, and Pyongyang has cited the arms buildup as an example of hostile duplicity by Seoul and its allies in Washington.

But among Moon’s main motivations – and one that he appears to have believed is worth the risk of provoking the North – was his desire to build more autonomy within South Korea’s alliance with the United States and eventually win operational control of allied forces in the event of a war, according to officials and analysts.

“When this government unveiled F-35 fighter jets in 2019 after buying them from the U.S., I wondered why they would do that even as they want to champion inter-Korean engagement, knowing the North hates it so much,” one diplomatic source in Seoul said. “But I later realised that in Moon’s concept of self-reliant defence, they do what they plan to do, come rain or come shine.”

Since the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended with an armistice rather than a peace treaty, the U.S. military has retained control over hundreds of thousands of South Korean forces alongside the roughly 28,500 American troops in the country if another war breaks out.

Advertisement

Moon made obtaining control of the joint forces a major goal, but a delayed review https://www.reuters.com/article/southkorea-usa-military-idINKBN2AZ020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic and other issues has made it impossible in what is left of his term.

Nevertheless, Moon “seems to have decided to continue laying the groundwork for a future transfer through military buildup, no matter who succeeds him,” the source said, speaking on anonymity because of diplomatic sensitivity.

His push for more military power has been influenced by other factors, most prominently a genuine concern about countering North Korea’s growing threats, officials said.

It has also driven new business to South Korea’s defence contractors, boosted national prestige and helped Moon blunt criticism from conservatives that his outreach to North Korea might endanger the South and the U.S. alliance.

‘STRENGTH FOR PEACE’

Advertisement

To Moon, having a strong military is a natural part of making peace with North Korea from a position of strength, with reduced reliance on the United States, a South Korean military source said.

“Moon’s push brings important suggestions that South Korea is now ready to take the lead in establishing peace on the peninsula on its own, not as part of allied forces,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

“As we promote strength-based peace, this government has not given up on cross-border ties,” the source added. “They will strive to bring the North back to the table till the end, and have raised the issue of ending the war in line with that effort.”

Moon called for declaring a formal end to the war https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/south-korean-leader-repeats-call-declaration-end-korean-war-2021-09-21 in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly last month, saying it would help reopen stalled talks aimed at denuclearising North Korea in return for U.S. sanctions relief.

In recent years, the North has publicly tested several short-range missiles that analysts say are designed to evade South Korea’s defences. It has matched several moves by Seoul, including holding a duelling arms show https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/nkorea-threatens-upstage-skorea-defence-expo-with-duelling-military-show-2021-10-14 and launching a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/nkorea-says-it-conducted-successful-missile-test-submarine-kcna-2021-10-19 just weeks after South Korea had conducted its own SLBM test https://www.reuters.com/business/aerospace-defense/nkorea-fired-unidentified-projectile-yonhap-citing-skorea-military-2021-09-15.

Advertisement

Pyongyang has repeatedly complained about South Korea’s weapons acquisitions and joint drills with the Americans, accusing Seoul of applying double standards https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/north-korea-says-suggestion-declare-end-korean-war-is-premature-kcna-2021-09-23 over military development while destabilising the peninsula with its own buildup.

But Pyongyang has also shown willingness to overlook or downplay the South’s military moves when it sees fit, Seoul officials said.

“There was no strong backlash, though South Korean weapons are obviously not welcome to the North, and I think it’s their strategy to pretend to be a normal state and legitimise their own weapons development,” the first source said. “But the arms race is headed in a quite dangerous direction, with no arms control mechanisms or confidence-building measures whatsoever between both sides.”

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Writing by Josh Smith. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

Advertisement
Continue Reading
Advertisement

World

Pope says willing to go to Moscow to meet Orthodox Patriarch

Published

on

December 6, 2021

By Philip Pullella

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (Reuters) – Pope Francis said on Monday he was willing to go to Moscow for to meet Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill “brother to brother” in what would be the first trip by a pope to Russia.

The pair’s meeting in Cuba in 2016 was the first by a pope and a leader of the Russian Orthodox Church since the great schism that split Christianity into Eastern and Western branches in 1054.

Advertisement

Both sides have declared a willingness to work towards unity but they are still far apart theologically and over what role the pope would play in an eventually reunited Church.

“We are brothers and we talk straight to each other. We do not dance the minuet,” Francis told reporters aboard his plane returning from a trip to Cyprus and Greece.

“We have to move forward, walking and working towards unity.”

He said he was willing to go Moscow and that a top Russian Orthodox official was expected in Rome next week to decide the time and location of the meeting.

Francis said working out the protocols would be less important than meeting “brother to brother” with Kirill.

Advertisement

The Pope normally travels to countries with a joint invitation from its religious authorities as well as one from the government, meaning that Francis would most likely need an invitation from President Vladimir Putin to visit Russia.

The Russian Orthodox Church, the largest in Christian Orthodoxy, with about 100 million members, is closely aligned with the Kremlin.

Francis said the meeting with Kirill was “on the not too distant horizon”.

He said Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev, who is responsible for the Russian Orthodox Church’s external relations, would be coming to the Vatican to meet him to discuss where and when the next meeting can take place.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Alison Williams)

Advertisement

Continue Reading

World

Yemen Houthis bury their dead as Marib fighting rages

Published

on

December 6, 2021

By Adel Al-Khader

SANAA (Reuters) – Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis held military funerals on Monday for 25 fighters killed in battles with a Saudi-led coalition, as fighting shows no sign of abating despite intense international diplomacy to end the seven-year-old conflict.

The funerals took place as fighting has raged in the gas-rich Marib region, while warplanes from the coalition have intensified their bombing of Sanaa, Marib and other areas.

Advertisement

The Houthis have also stepped up cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia using armed drones and missiles.

An honour guard carried the coffins – draped with flags, flowers and photographs of the dead – with military music through the capital Sanaa. Relatives gathered to mourn their loved ones.

“We are in these days inspired by these martyrs’ pride and dignity and say to them: ‘congratulations! You have preceded us to a paradise as wide as the heavens and earth’,” said Ali Muhyaddin, a relative of one of the dead.

The war in Yemen has killed tens of thousands and caused what the United Nations describes as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.

U.N.-led efforts to agree a ceasefire have stalled in the conflict, which is seen largely as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Houthis say they are fighting a corrupt system and foreign invasion.

Advertisement

Houthi media showed fighters exchanging heavy artillery fire with coalition forces in Marib on Sunday as warplanes flew overhead. All the 25 fighters buried in Sanaa were killed in Marib, Houthi officials said.

The Houthis have launched a year-long offensive to take Marib, which hosts Yemen’s biggest gas fields. The city is the last stronghold of the internationally recognised government.

Marib is home to 3 million people, including nearly 1 million who fled other parts of Yemen after the Houthis ousted the government from the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014, prompting the Saudi-led coalition to intervene.

The number of displaced people in camps in the province has risen nearly 10-fold since September, with more than 45,000 people fleeing their homes as Houthi forces press the offensive, the U.N. migration agency IOM said last month.

(Writing by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Alex Richardson)

Advertisement

Continue Reading

World

Putin and Modi discuss trade, humanitarian situation in Afghanistan

Published

on

December 6, 2021

By Alasdair Pal and Neha Arora

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Russian President Vladimir Putin in New Delhi on Monday, with trade and the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan both on the agenda.

Afghanistan’s takeover by the Taliban earlier this year has led to a humanitarian crisis in the country, which New Delhi and Moscow have both previously said risks destabilising the region.

Advertisement

“The fight against terrorism is also a fight against drug trafficking and organised crime,” Putin said in introductory remarks broadcast by Indian media. “In that regard, we are concerned about developments of the situation in Afghanistan.”

The visit by Putin and several top Russian officials comes amid increasingly strained relations between Russia and the United States, also a key Indian ally.

Earlier on Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said a deal to supply India with S-400 air defence missile systems was being implemented despite what he said were U.S. efforts to undermine the accord.

India and Russia are expected to cement several trade and defence pacts at the summit.

“The relation between India and Russia is truly a unique and reliable model,” Modi said.

Advertisement

(Reporting by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Alex Richardson)

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Trending