Secret military pact likely led to Blue House Chief of Staff’s UAE visit

Posted on : 2018-01-10 16:51 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
The agreement was acknowledged by Lee Myung-bak’s former defense minister
Former Defense Minister Kim Tae-young speaks before the National Assembly on Nov. 11
Former Defense Minister Kim Tae-young speaks before the National Assembly on Nov. 11

There is increasing reason to believe that a secret military pact reached by the administration of former president Lee Myung-bak was the reason for Blue House Chief of Staff Im Jong-seok’s visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Dec. 11, 2017. This explanation is backed up by former Defense Minister Kim Tae-young’s acknowledgment on Jan. 9 that he arranged a secret military pact pledging the intervention of South Korean troops in the event of a crisis.

The pact coincided with South Korea’s successful bid for the construction of four nuclear reactors in 2009. Various allegations that have been raised over the month since Lim’s visit to the UAE now seem to be coalescing into the accusation that the Lee administration violated the constitution when it signed the military pact without the approval of the National Assembly.

“At the time, France had nearly clinched the UAE nuclear reactor deal. [To win the UAE over,] South Korea needed to show it was fully committed to the UAE. We signed an agreement for the South Korean military to intervene if the UAE runs into military trouble,” said Kim during an interview that ran in the Jan. 9 issue of the Joongang Ilbo. Kim served as Defense Minister under the Lee administration from Sept. 2009 to Dec. 2010.

Kim visited the UAE in Nov. 2009, one month before the announcement that South Korea had won the order for the nuclear reactors. After that, lawmakers on the National Assembly’s National Defense Committee grilled Kim about whether he had signed a secret memorandum of understanding for military cooperation that would guarantee the automatic intervention of South Korean troops in the event of a conflict in the UAE, but Kim staunchly denied the existence of a secret pact.

But his acknowledgment of the existence of a secret military pact means that he perjured himself before the National Assembly and turns the questions about Lim’s visit to the UAE into a debate over whether the Lee administration violated the constitution.

“Defense Minister Song Young-moo went to the UAE to ask them to revise certain problematic sections, and the UAE was offended about that. Chief of Staff Lim Jong-seok’s visit was about smoothing ruffled feathers,” said Justice Party lawmaker Kim Jong-dae during a radio interview on Jan. 9. Kim has repeatedly raised allegations about a secret military pact by the Lee administration since the controversy began.

Former president Lee pledged military intervention to UAE in case of crisis

The problem is that the Lee administration included a clause in its pact with the UAE pledging automatic military intervention in the case of a crisis – a clause that does not even appear in South Korea’s mutual defense treaty with the US – without receiving the approval of the National Assembly. Many politicians are taking issue with the government for secretly handling a grave foreign policy matter that could embroil the South Korean military in a conflict in the Middle East.

“The agreement that Kim Tae-young signed was translated into Korean by the Foreign Ministry. I’m told that during the translation process, Foreign Ministry officials were horrified by what the Defense Ministry had done, which they described as ‘lunacy,’” Kim Jong-dae said, as he explained that the Foreign Ministry was also aware of the problems with the agreement.

Kim Tae-young told the Joongang Ilbo that he had suggested signing a pact, which does not require the ratification of the National Assembly, and promised to take responsibility for the decision. “I thought that if an actual problem arose, we could just have the National Assembly ratify the pact at that time,” Kim said.

Military pact may have infringed on National Assembly’s constitutional authority

Along with the claim that this constituted a serious infringement of the National Assembly’s constitutional authority to sign and ratify treaties (found in Article 60, Clause 1), there are also calls for the matter to be fully investigated and for the individuals responsible for the pact to be held accountable.

“The National Assembly should immediately launch a parliamentary probe into these serious unconstitutional acts; the government should explain the problematic areas and the allegations that are being raised; and appropriate steps should be taken against the members of the Lee Myung-bak administration who are responsible for this,” People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy demanded in a statement released on Jan. 9.

“The only way to prevent this kind of thing from happening again is to take stern measures, including criminal prosecution, against [former president] Lee Myung-bak and his successors in the Saenuri Party [the ruling party at the time] for their disregard of the constitution,” said People’s Party lawmaker Park Jie-won.

By Lee Seung-jun, staff reporter

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