The South Korean Ministry of Defense is considering whether to delete the phrase “the North Korean regime and army are our enemy” in the Defense White Paper to be released at the end of the year. The decision was made in light of the actions taken after the April 27 Panmunjom Declaration, in which both Koreas agreed to ease military tensions, to consult with North Korea measures to ease hostile behaviors. Under the government’s decision that it would be contradictory to define North Korea as an enemy in such conditions, the ministry is seeking to come up with an alternative expression that would replace North Korea as a military threat.
Though the ministry said that the decision was not definite, deleting the phrase expressing North Korea as an enemy has been forthcoming. During his presidency campaign last year, South Korean President Moon Jae-in had expressed that he would not define North Korea as an enemy, in spite of controversies related to his perspective on national security. He said that the matter should be determined by the Defense Ministry, not the president, in a TV debate. Now it appears that the government is expecting the ministry to follow Moon's perspective.
It was back in 1995 when North Korea was first defined as an enemy in the Defense White Paper. When North Korea announced that it would turn “Seoul into a sea of fire” in a Panmunjom meeting in 1994, the phrase “North Korea is our main enemy” appeared in the White Paper and continued to be effective by 2000. But during the 2000 inter-Korean summit when the expression became controversial, the Defense Ministry published a Defense Policy booklet absent of the main enemy statement, instead of a White Paper. During the Roh Moo-hyun administration in 2004, a White Paper stated North Korea as "existing threat" and "direct military threat." In 2010, after North Korea’s bombing of Yeonpyeong Island in South Korea, the previous expression returned.
A fierce discussion would be inevitable if the expression is once again deleted this time. Despite North Korea’s commitment to achieve complete denuclearization, it has not shown any signs to discontinue production of nuclear weapons. If the expression is taken out, the army’s awareness on national security could weaken and send a wrong signal to North Korea. Thus it would not be late to take out the phrase after complete denuclearization and mutual military trust is achieved between both sides. Should a hasty precedent is once again made, it could set a precedent and allow the phrase to be deleted and added in line with fluctuations in inter-Korean relations or the political beliefs of the government.
The same applies for the Defense Ministry’s plans to reduce guard posts within the DMZ. Defense Minister Song Young-moo’s announcement for both Koreas to withdraw about 10 guard posts located close to each other has drawn criticism that the action would be premature. Given that currently North Korea has 160 guard posts while South Korea has only 80, the removal of the same amount of posts in each side would only result in weakened security conditions on our side. The removal of posts should be made proportionally, only after North Korea shows real change.