Yoon Kwang Ung, former South Korean presidential aide for defense affairs, has been appointed Defense Minister in the wake of a scandal over the withholding of information during a recent run in between South Korean and North Korean ships along the Northern Limit Line. Yoon’s appointment will likely presage major shifts in South Korea’s defense posture and military structure, moving Seoul firmly along the path of President Roh Moo Hyun’s “independent foreign policy” and “cooperative self-defense” programs.
Yoon is a staunch supporter of Roh’s military restructuring plans, which are designed to strengthen South Korea’s military and reduce its dependence on the United States for security matters in Korea, the region and the world. The new military posture is the core of Roh’s plans to redefine Korea as an international finance and trade hub with a global reach. While often couched in anti-U.S. terms, Roh’s plans are less a reaction against Washington than an attempt to redefine the relationship on more equal terms, where Seoul sets the priorities for issues in its own neighborhood – particularly regarding North Korea.
Yoon has his work cut out for him, though. There are rumors of low morale in the South Korean military, the defense force has been dependent upon the United States for decades, domestic technological advances have been hampered by the relationship with the U.S. military, foreign defense contractors are wary of the South Korean bidding process due to the predominance of U.S. contactors winning for political reasons and the political pressure from Seoul is to play nice with the North, while the defensive reality still places Pyongyang at the top of the “enemy” list.