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View more articles by Dagyum Ji
Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
The ROK Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) will push ahead with a research project aimed at examining the future redeployment of ground forces on the entire Korean peninsula in the event of unification, the South’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) confirmed on Thursday.
During a regular new briefing, MND spokesperson Choi Hyun-soo said the decision was being made to prepare “for changes in the security situation in the future.”
The South Korean military, she continued, commissioned the research project to a private subcontractor due to need for “establishing and preparing [new] military strategies,” stressing that the research will not impact current policy.
A document seen by NK News revealed the ROK JCS had on March 5 closed bidding for a five-month research “plan to deploy ground forces on the Korean peninsula in the future.”
The research aims at establishing plans to re-station the South Korean Army “appropriately” in response to future “potential security threats from neighboring countries.”
The outcome of the research will be reflected in “the establishment of strategies and operational plans” going forward, it added.
When asked by NK News whether this would include a redeployment to the northern part of the peninsula, an MND official who asked to remain anonymous said Korean unification was among the future scenarios under consideration.
The proposal said the research was needed due to the potential for “threats from neighboring countries including China, Russia, and Japan” to increase in the future.
In another clause hinting that the research constitutes planning for a post-unification scenario, the JCS argued that South Korea’s border will in future be “extended” and, as a result, the territory in which the ROK Army operates will be expanded.
Subcontractors are being asked to develop plans for the “full-range deployment” of forces to the Korean peninsula and their “concentrated deployment to strategic points.”
The news comes amid a broader shift of policy priorities by the South Korean military in response to an ongoing détente between the two Koreas.
December last year saw the MND acknowledge that the Korea Institute Defense Analyses (KIDA), a defense ministry-backed think tank, was conducting research into “changes in the security situation” and how they might affect the army.
KIDA’s research examined how the ongoing “Defense Reform 2.0” program might be affected in the event of North Korean denuclearization and the establishment of a peace regime on the peninsula, spokesperson Choi told a regular press briefing at the time.
The Hankyoreh newspaper, which first broke the story, reported that the MND was in the process of drafting a “plan B” to replace its current basic plan.
That plan, the newspaper reported, aims to prepare the military for a future in which the threat from North Korea is reduced and new threats, including from China, emerge.
In July, South Korean President Moon Jae-in told top military commanders that they should ready “comprehensive defense capabilities to simultaneously be ready for the ongoing confrontation between the two Koreas” as well as other, newer threats.
“Although inter-Korean relations have improved and efforts are underway to achieve the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, it still remains uncertain what the endpoint will be,” Moon said. “We must reform the military so that we can respond flexibly to changes in the security environment.”
The MND in its Defense White Paper published in December 2018, too, appeared to soften its traditional definition of North Korea as the country’s main enemy, instead featuring a new, expanded, definition of the term.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: Ministry of National Defense