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(LEAD) (profile) Defense chief nominee seen as field ops expert, fit for OPCON transfer drive

All News 16:44 August 28, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS more details in last 4 paras)
By Oh Seok-min

SEOUL, Aug. 28 (Yonhap) -- Defense Minister nominee Suh Wook, the current Army chief of staff, is seen as an expert in field military operations and fit to lead South Korea's envisioned retaking of wartime operational control (OPCON) from the United States.

After a parliamentary hearing process, the 57-year-old general will replace Jeong Kyeong-doo as defense minister. Jeong is leaving after two years on the job. He was the first defense minister hailing from the Air Force in nearly three decades.

Suh was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1985 after graduating from the Korea Military Academy, and has served in various prominent posts in the Army and the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). Suh has led the Army since April 2019.

"He has ample experiences in field maneuvers and military operations, and has expertise in joint and combined operations," Cheong Wa Dae spokesperson Kang Min-seok said. "We expect him to contribute to maintaining a strong readiness posture based on experiences and insight through his service for more than 30 years."

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Suh Wook speaks during a parliamentary meeting in Seoul on July 28, 2020. (Yonhap)

The Army general is also seen well suited to push for the envisioned OPCON transfer of South Korean troops from Washington to Seoul based upon his career at the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command between 2011 and 2014.

The current Moon Jae-in government has sought to retake operational control of its troops from the U.S. within his term which ends in May 2022, though it is not time-based but conditions-based. The two countries have been working to verify if Seoul is on course to meet the conditions for the transition.

"He is the right person to push for the OPCON transfer based upon the strong South Korea-U.S. alliance and defense reform without a hitch to build a strong military," Kang added.

President Moon appears to be seeking stability over drastic changes and reforms in his final years in office while trying to "balance" among all armed forces by choosing the figure from the Army, according to experts.

If approved, he will be the first defense minister with an Army background under the Moon administration. Jeong's predecessor and Moon's first defense minister, Song Young-moo, was a retired Navy admiral.

Suh is also known to have a good understanding of Moon's governing philosophy and knowledge of the inter-Korean military relationship.

During his service at the JCS' chief directorate of operations, he was engaged in the inter-Korean Comprehensive Military Agreement signed on Sept. 19, 2018, which calls for halting all hostile acts against each other and pushing for trust-building measures, officials said.

Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo (C) speaks during a meeting of military commanders in Seoul on June 19, 2019, which was attended by Army Chief of Staff (R) Gen. Suh Wook and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Park Han-ki. (Yonhap)

graceoh@yna.co.kr
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