Tough tasks await defense minister nominee

SEOUL, Defense Minister nominee Jeong Kyeong-doo, if appointed, will face a series of daunting tasks, such as pushing for defense reform seen largely as targeting the Army, a dominant military branch under fire for a series of political allegations.

President Moon Jae-in nominated Air Force Gen. Jeong, the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in yet another decision to put a non-Army official in the ministerial post. Following a parliamentary hearing, he is set to replace Song Young-moo, a retired admiral.

Observers say that the nomination reflects the liberal president's apparent distrust over top Army officials, some of whom were accused of leading online politically charged operations to back former conservative governments.

The first and foremost task is expected to be forging ahead with the Defense Reform 2.0 initiative that may face resistance from the Army. The initiative involves a reduction of 118,000 Army troops, including 66 general-level posts and seeks a "balance" among all armed services.

"(The president's nomination) appears to be based on his belief that a non-Army official is suited to achieve reform in line with the public sentiment and through stamping out inter-service rivalries," a military source told Yonhap News Agency on condition of anonymity.

While pushing for the reform, a new defense chief is expected to remain circumspect not to worsen morale among the Army personnel, still a crucial element of the military for potential ground-based combat or post-conflict stabilization operations.

The Army morale has continuously been eroded by a recent string of political scandals. The latest one involves the Defense Security Command being accused of mulling the invocation of martial law to quash anti-government protests last year.

In a text message to reporters, Jeong vowed to make "flat-out" efforts for defense reform.

"I will do my utmost for strong security and defense by completing the defense reform initiative, which is a strict order from citizens," he said.

Another tough task for the new defense chief will be to craft a new defense vision that dovetails with ongoing efforts to foster inter-Korean rapprochement and a lasting peace on the divided peninsula.

During the April inter-Korean summit, Moon and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un agreed to cease all hostile acts against each other in "every domain, including land, air and sea" and promote inter-Korean cooperation.

But this agreement could pose a dilemma to Seoul's defense chief, as the communist state has not taken any tangible steps toward denuclearization, such as a full declaration of its nuclear and missile programs.

The North has taken a set of tension-reduction steps, such as putting on hold its nuclear and missile tests and abolishing a major nuclear testing site. But these steps were not verified and did little to ease nuclear threats, observers said.

If approved, Jeong will also oversee the ongoing efforts for the conditions-based transfer of wartime operational control from Washington and shore up the country's capabilities of cyberwarfare operations.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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