The Korea Herald


[Editorial] Reduce security risks

Yoon effectively completes new team by naming NIS chief, foreign minister

By Korea Herald

Published : Dec. 21, 2023 - 05:30

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President Yoon Suk Yeol nominated his national security adviser Cho Tae-yong as director of the National Intelligence Service and Cho Tae-yul, a former second vice foreign minister, as foreign minister.

Considering Yoon's appointments of Kim Yung-ho and Shin Won-sik as the unification and defense ministers in August and October, respectively, the president has effectively completed his new diplomacy and security team.

They have a lot on their shoulders now that the tension around the Korean Peninsula has grown once again, and that a complex of global crises including supply chain risks looms large.

The previous team had considerable success in restoring Korea-US and Korea-Japan relations that were strained during the previous Moon Jae-in administration. The new team must further relations and produce concrete results.

Both nominees are former Foreign Ministry bureaucrats with considerable experience in diplomacy and political affairs.

Cho, tapped to head the intelligence agency, has been in Yoon’s confidence since he was elected president. The presidential office says he is well qualified to stabilize the organization of the NIS, which has had a rough time over personnel matters. Coping with North Korea issues is the primary task for the agency, but for now he must put organizational stability first. The agency is also said to be trying to restore its human intelligence system, and it must hasten the efforts.

The foreign minister nominee is a seasoned diplomat with a wealth of experience in multilateral diplomacy and extensive knowledge in economic and trade issues. His nomination seems to reflect the president’s intention to strengthen trade negotiations and response to supply chain risks.

It is noteworthy that the presidential office will establish the new position of third deputy national security adviser to handle economic security issues. Currently, the first deputy handles foreign policy and the second deputy is charged with national defense.

The boundary between security and the economy is crumbling. Countries fully mobilize their diplomatic and security capabilities to maximize their national interests. Natural resources are being weaponized and supply chains shaken. In this situation, the nation’s exposure to supply chain risks is inevitable, as it depends on foreign countries for major items. It is meaningful that the presidential office will take charge of efforts to find alternative suppliers and build domestic production systems.

The biggest challenge for the new team is to minimize security threats due to North Korea’s continuous nuclear and missile upgrades. The North fired a “Hwasong-18” missile into the sea off the eastern coast of the Korean Peninsula on Monday, showing progress toward the deployment of solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missiles able to strike the continental US. Last month, it launched a military reconnaissance satellite successfully to spy into South Korea, though its quality is poor.

In the second meeting of the Nuclear Consultative Group in Washington on Friday, Korea and the US agreed to complete a guideline on the planning and operation of nuclear strategy and also include a scenario of nuclear operation in their joint military training. The new team must cooperate closely with the US to ensure the agreements will be carried out without a hitch.

The nominees also must manage Korea-China relations wisely while maintaining close cooperation with the US and Japan. One of their important tasks is to successfully arrange a Korea-Japan-China summit early next year. Improving ties with Beijing is closely related to Korea’s economic security. Strategic flexibility is needed to protect Korea’s economic interests amid US-China confrontation.

Additionally, they must prepare for risks stemming from Donald Trump’s possible re-ascendancy to US president in next November's election. US-North Korea dialogue may resume suddenly, Seoul-Washington differences will likely reemerge over the sharing of defense costs and unexpected trade friction would likely become reality. They need to utilize their accumulated human network in the US to deliver Korea's positions effectively.