Defense Ministry changes terminology for “three-axis system” of military response

Posted on : 2019-01-13 18:12 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Name likely to come under fire for being merely a cosmetic change
A fighter jet equipped with Taurus air-to-ground missile
A fighter jet equipped with Taurus air-to-ground missile

The term “Korean-style three-axis system,” which South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) advocated as a key strategy for responding to the threat of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction, will become a historical footnote.

On Jan. 10, the MND announced that it was replacing that term with “system for responding to nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction” in order to strengthen South Korea’s strategic deterrence capability.

The first component of this system, called the Kill Chain (a preemptive strike initiated when signs are detected that North Korea is about to launch a nuclear weapon or missile) will be renamed Strategic Target Strike. The second component, called Korean Air and Missile Defense, will be renamed Korean Missile Defense. The third component, called Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation (ruthless retaliation to a nuclear or missile strike), will be renamed Overwhelming Response.

The Hankyoreh reported on Dec. 9 that these three weapon systems were being renamed as part of the Moon Jae-in administration’s new basic plan for national defense.

These terminological changes will also reportedly be reflected in the 2019–2023 mid-term plan for national defense that the MND will be announcing shortly. During a briefing about the MND’s plans for 2019 on Dec. 20, 2018, Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo told South Korean President Moon Jae-in that the MND had decided to change the names of these three-axis systems.

“The military has decided that the concept and strategic structure of the ‘Korean-style three-axis system’ needs to be complemented and developed in order to enable a proactive and omnidirectional response to the threat of nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction in National Defense Reform 2.0,” the MND said while explaining its rationale for the change of terminology.

Other factors apparently contributing to this decision are the fact that North Korea has not undertaken nuclear weapons and missile tests since late 2017 and that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has continued to express his commitment to “complete denuclearization” during three inter-Korean summits and the North Korea-US summit in Singapore on June 12, 2018.

The MND’s decision to change the name of the “Korean-style three-axis system” and its three constituent weapon systems appears to be based on the view that those names focused on psychological warfare without adequately reflecting South Korean forces’ practical capabilities. It also appears to be an attempt to avoid provoking North Korea unnecessarily while inter-Korean military tensions are on the wane.

Operational details of systems remain same; MND bolsters defense spending

But since the MND has maintained the operational details of those three systems and its plan to bolster military strength, it’s likely to come under fire for making what amounts to a cosmetic change. Despite the name change, the MND has engineered a year-on-year budget increase of 706.3 billion won (US$632.7 million) to set up these three systems, which is likely to become an obstacle to military confidence building in the future.

The Korean-style three-axis system is composed of the Kill Chain, which launches a preemptive strike upon detecting indications that North Korea will launch a nuclear weapon or missile; Korean Air and Missile Defense, which uses interceptor missiles to shoot down nuclear weapons or missiles in the air after launch; and Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation, which responds to a nuclear or missile attack with a ruthless counterattack.

After suffering provocations including the sinking of the Cheonan corvette and North Korea’s bombing of Yeonpyeong Island in 2010, the Lee Myung-bak administration announced during its 2012 Security Consultative Meeting with the US that it would be creating a Kill Chain by 2015 based on the concept of “actively deterring” North Korean missiles and long-range artillery. Shortly after North Korea’s fifth nuclear test in Sept. 2016, the Park Geun-hye administration filled out the concept with the addition of Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation, which includes a plan to eliminate the North Korean leadership.

By Noh Ji-won, staff reporter

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