President Moon’s way to the Blue House was a tough one. During the presidential debates, the then-candidate seemed to struggle most with questions demanding his stance on two issues: defense and science and technology. As he is no more a candidate, now seems an opportune time to further scrutinize his policies on those agenda.
As a former special forces soldier, President Moon does appear confidently acquainted with the operations of the military, but opposition parties have continually found his stance on defense questionable. That may be because he has repeatedly stressed the importance of both having open talks with North Korea and acquiring the full wartime operational control of our troops in case of a conflict, neither of which is a diplomatically popular resolution at the moment. That is, North Korea is not anywhere close to having a summit with South Korea, and the US has appeared rather reluctant to hand over the control. Nevertheless, President Moon and his party outline his defense policies to be geared towards a strong and peaceful Korea, and the official documentation available on the party’s website details how President Moon aims to keep his promises.
Early deployment of the Korea Air and Missile Defense (KAMD) system is at the forefront of President Moon’s defense policies. This system is key to an autonomous defense tactic and can reconcile the dilemma between building a stronger Korea and avoiding — or at least stalling — the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) discussions that sour the diplomatic relations with China. By reclaiming the full wartime operational control within his term, President Moon also wants Korea to have a significant presence among its allies, as he expressed his concerns of the US and China leaving out Korea in their talks about THAAD. In short, it seems that an autonomously capable state is what he is pursuing.
When it comes to internal affairs within the Korean military, President Moon’s plans are founded on the idea of gradually reforming the organization of 600,000 people. The chain of command, acquisition and distribution of ammunition, military personnel welfare, human resource management within the military, and the mandatory service duration are some of the points his policy book specifies as the targets of reform.
As a human-rights-lawyer-turned-president, he envisions a healthier military that financially rewards soldiers with up to 50% of minimum wage, allows for better opportunities of personal development within the military, and swiftly prosecutes human rights violations, including and especially the ones of sexual nature.
In terms of science and technology policy, President Moon’s rhetoric at the presidential debates may not have been the strongest. However, the extent of elaboration and specificity in his policy book suggest that his science and technology policies might just not have received enough coverage on air.
Within an ambitious — but rather vaguely worded — goal of joining the torrent of the fourth industrial revolution, President Moon and his party claim to have recognized the need for a new growth engine for Korea. That said, his approach to cultivating a new growth factor relies on macroscopically interventionist methods, including the revival of a ministry for science and technology, a presidential order stipulating the establishment of a “Fourth Industrial Revolution Committee”, and setting Daejeon as the cluster for research institutes and small and medium-sized enterprises in view of the imbalance between the capital city and the rest of the country. His idea of the aforementioned revolution leads him to push for an active support for specific goods and services ranging from electric vehicles and unmanned aerial vehicles to augmented/virtual reality, 5G networks, 3D printing, and FinTech. Military technology constitutes an interesting intersection between defense and science and technology. In light of stimulating the economy, of which defense takes a big part in this divided nation, President Moon would make available to the private sector parts of the research and development intellectual properties, so that the private sector can also contribute to defense research.
While his vision of a science and technology-driven growing economy appears more refined than a silhouette, the details of how to encourage scientists and engineers are yet to be clear. The many “different” ways of supporting new researchers, young laboratories, and dwindling startups all resort to a financial remedy, without an accompanying proposed legislature. In simple terms, pouring in a lot of money without the backing of an organized legal scheme may be ineffective, if not wasteful.
Some of the promises put forward may be realistic and achievable; others, idealistic and impractical. However, a week into President Moon’s administration is undoubtedly an early point in time to attempt any evaluation. What is within our grasp is to review President Moon’s choice of his cabinet members: the men and women who will make the promises come true.