Visit to KAAY Overview

By: Chulson Lee (CSPS-Korea)

Center for Security Policy Studies Korea (CSPS Korea) made a two-day visit to Korea Army Academy at Yeong-Cheon (KAAY) located within Gyeongsangbuk-do Province in November 2018.

KAAY was established in 1968 and operates as one of the major military academies in the Republic of Korea. Cadets are trained for 2 years and become commissioned officers upon graduation. Since its foundation, the Academy has trained more than 150,000 elite officers. Unlike other military academies, KAAY only accepts transfer students who completed 2 years of education from other universities. Furthermore, KAAY supports qualified commissioned officers to pursue higher education both home and abroad who later become competent military scholars and educators.

The purpose of the visit was to broaden our perspectives by observing how KAAY studies, interprets and analyzes international relations and affairs. CSPS Korea’s visit consisted of three main activities: attending lectures on North Korean nuclear weapons, military leadership and the ROK-US alliance given by commissioned officers, exchanging thoughts and opinions with cadets on current South and North Korean relations, and extending networks of CSPS Korea.

Captain Young-Gyun Jang, an associate professor for North Korean Studies, gave a lecture on development of North Korean nuclear weapon and its strategic use for regime consolidation. According to the lecture, North Korea has been using nuclear weapons to establish diplomatic relations with other states, legitimize its regime and achieve a military strategic advantage over South Korea. Captain Jang emphasized that developing a nuclear weapon is inexpensive yet cost-effective compared to Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) as it serves crucial political purposes.

A lecture on ‘leadership in conflict resolution’ given by Mr. Seo-hwan Cho, the Chairman of the Asia-Pacific Marketing Forum, accentuated the role of a leader in resolving conflicts in any organization. He asserted that leader with responsibility, motivation, and insight can overcome conflicts and help an organization to mature. Thus, he urged the cadets to develop their leadership as it will be essential when they become commissioned officers.

A special lecture given by Captain Ji-Min Kwon, an associate professor for North Korean Studies, remarked on the importance of the ROK-US alliance and the presence of US military in South Korea. He discussed about terms of the ROK-US Mutual Defense Agreement and argued that US military presence in South Korea is essential because the agreement does not include a clause on ‘automatic military intervention’ which contrasts with the Sino-DPRK Mutual Aid and Cooperation Friendship Treaty. Therefore, US military presence is imperative for the United States to intervene in case of a war in the Korean Peninsula.

The fellows and 10 KAAY cadets held a post-lecture discussion to share opinions on the ROK-US alliance. Both groups agreed that the alliance is crucial for ensuring peace and security in the Korean Peninsula. However, discussants also expressed concerns for an abrupt transition to peace with no substantive progress on managing North Korea’s nuclear weapons and human rights issues.

All activities at KAAY were unique, as we experienced new aspect of security issues in the Korean Peninsula. While civilians are exposed to media that highlight unification, transition to peace and mutual military reduction agreements, military still holds conservative and skeptical standpoint on the unification. The fellows agreed that the military should adhere to conservatism and maintain political neutrality while resisting external political influences.

The fellows also questioned North Korea as a trustworthy and credible partner as North Korea repeatedly launched military attacks and provocations against South Korea even after the armistice. This raised an alertness on why North Korea became so intimate and open to the international community. North Korea’s abrupt cordiality may correlate to maximizing its strategic benefits such as normalization of diplomatic relations, sanction reductions and foreign investments.

The visit to KAAY warned the fellows not to be carried away by recent progress between two countries, but to view the case from different angles. Although its significance should not be downsized, people must view the issue from various perspectives. Current discourses on South-North Korean relationship tend to accentuate cooperation and trust.

However, realist and military perspectives should also be incorporated to explain state behaviors. Applying myriad of theories and concepts is critical to understand the issues surrounding the Korean Peninsula since it is not a bilateral quarrel, but an ideological standoff involving many states.

However, it also left questions to ponder. Should we advocate current transition to peace or protest it? Or should we just study and observe the case nonchalantly? The experience has surely enlightened our knowledge on national security, but the fundamental question on how we should react still remains.