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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Aug. 4)

All Headlines 11:11 August 04, 2018

Ensure civilian control
: Reform should focus on ending DSC's meddling in politics

A taskforce formed by the Ministry of National Defense disclosed how to reform a military intelligence unit Thursday. It came up with a set of proposals to transform the embattled Defense Security Command (DSC) into a new unit, whose role will be confined to security and counterespionage.

The long-overdue reform is aimed at preventing the DSC from wielding undue power in the military and intervening in politics. The reform calls for reducing the number of DSC personnel by 30 percent from the current 4,200 to around 3,000. It recommended that the number of generals be cut from the present nine to five or six.

The plan also demanded the closure of the command's regional sub-units each headed by a colonel in Seoul and 10 other major cities. As for the DSC command structure, the taskforce suggested three proposals: maintaining the current structure, reshaping the DSC into a unit under the wing of the defense ministry, and creating an independent government agency.

Defense Minister Song Young-moo is expected to finalize a reform blueprint based on the taskforce's draft and report it to President Moon Jae-in next week at the earliest. The government is pushing to revamp the DSC amid a controversy over documents it produced that examined ways of declaring martial law last year to quell massive candlelit rallies against then-President Park Geun-hye over an abuse of power and corruption scandal.

The DSC has also come under mounting criticism for online opinion rigging under the governments of Park and her predecessor Lee Myung-bak. It has also drawn fire for conducting surveillance of civilians, particularly bereaved family members of the victims of the 2014 ferry Sewol sinking which claimed 304 lives.

So the reform of the DSC should focus on how to stop the military intelligence unit from meddling in politics and engaging in other illegal activities such as monitoring civilians. For this, the taskforce recommended that the DSC commander be banned from having one-on-one meetings with the president to directly report details of intelligence the unit gathers.

The recommendation is considered one of the core elements of DSC reform because former presidents used such meetings not only to control the military, but also to tighten their grip on power. Dictators such as Park Chung-hee and Chun Doo-hwan mobilized the military intelligence unit to maintain their power and to crack down on dissidents.

What's most imperative is for the government to ensure civilian control over the DSC and overall the military in order to prevent them from interfering in politics and engaging in political maneuvering. For this reason, it would be better to dismantle the DSC and then set up a slimmer but more efficient unit that will be solely devoted to security and counterespionage.
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