THE EMERGING REPUBLIC OF KOREA NAVY: A Japanese Perspective

By Koda, Yoji | Naval War College Review, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

THE EMERGING REPUBLIC OF KOREA NAVY: A Japanese Perspective


Koda, Yoji, Naval War College Review


On 21 May 1997 the author, then director of the Policy, Plans, and Programs Division, in the Maritime Staff Office of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, attended a preparatory meeting for proposed navy-to-navy staff talks for the exchange of opinions on various maritime and naval subjects with the Republic of Korea Navy. My counterpart at this meeting, which was held at a navy facility in Taejung, in the central region of the Republic of Korea, was the Naval Policy Director of ROKN* Headquarters.

Navy-to-navy talks symbolize military exchanges between countries. The JMSDF has had such talks with the U.S. Navy, an allied partner, for a long time and also with the United Kingdom's Royal Navy, regarded as a "father" of modern navies. During the mid-1990s the JMSDF began to have such talks with the Royal Australian Navy, which has close relations with the navies of many Southeast Asian nations. The JMSDF hopes that the Australian navy can help it bridge historical gaps in relations-arising fromthe wariness in these countries caused by the bitter experience of World War II-between the JMSDF and Southeast Asian navies.Military-to-military exchanges developed rapidly in those years, as a part of the new international exchanges that arose in the post-ColdWar era, so the establishment of a close relationship with the ROKN had become a serious and urgent issue for the JMSDF. For all these reasons, I, as an official responsible for JMSDF policy in MSO, proposed to meet with my counterpart in the ROKN as a preliminary measure.

Because our meeting was held before the start of official exchanges, and because we did not know each other, the atmosphere was awkward at first.However, as time passed, we gradually became friendly, finding that we had much in common as sailors. A number of exchanges followed fairly quickly, and in the years since then the relationship between the two navies has deepened. Still, the history of this official relationship between the JMSDF and the ROKNis very short-only about ten years-when one considers the geographical proximity between the two nations; true mutual understanding has yet to mature.Much can still be done to bring the JMSDF and ROKN closer together.

It is for that reason, and fromthat perspective, that I, as a former leader of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, would like here to examine comprehensively the Republic of Korea Navy. I will discuss the whole service, except for (though they are officially part of the ROKN) the ground forces of the Republic of Korea Marine Corps.

WATERBORNE FORCES IN ANCIENT KOREA

The history of maritime armed forces in the Korean Peninsula originates with those that fought during the unification of the peninsula. The chronicles of the Three Kingdoms of Korea-Baekje, Goguryeo, and Silla-record the activity of these waterborne forces. For a typical example, in the latter half of the fourth century,King Kwanggaeto of Goguryeo attacked and conquered Baekje by effective use of naval forces.1 His conquest is remembered today in the name of the first ship of the KDX-I destroyer class-Kwanggaeto Daewang (Kwanggaeto the Great).2

When the Mongolian Yuan dynasty, which had conquered China and central Eurasia, invaded the Korean Peninsula in the mid-thirteenth century, the Goguryeo dynasty evacuated its capital to Ganghwado Island, two kilometers off the coast. The sea forces of Goguryeo protected their island capital from fierce Yuan attacks for about thirty years. The Yuans,whoseMongolian cavalry was overwhelming on land, were poor at combat on the water; nonetheless, this success was a noteworthy event in the history of the waterborne forces of the peninsula.3

The next prominent event in Korean naval history was the successful protection of its coasts fromJapanese pirates, known as the "Wa-ko,"whose lawless activities became significant in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries. Korean forces protected the population and coastal villages fromWa-ko assault and later neutralized the pirate base in the islands of the Tsushima Strait, between Kyushu and the peninsula. …

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