At the beginning of July 2018, South Korea’s mainstream newspapers were full of headlines about an uncovered military coup as deviously planned as the military plots concocted by Park Chung-hee and Chun Doo-hwan. A whole group of high ranking military personnel, including Kim Kwang-jin, the Chief of The National Security Office; So Gang-won, the deputy Chief of the Defense Security Command; Han Min-goo, the Minister of National Defense; Cho Hyun-chun, the Defense Security Command (DSC) Chief, and Chief of Army Staff Chan Jun-gu was prepared to declare a national state of emergency and deploy tanks, special forces and paratroopers in the streets to suppress ongoing protests and avoid a repeated attempt to remove Park Geun-hye from power, who was most likely aware of the plot and planned to execute people.
The information source that led to the media frenzy was the Military Human Rights Center for Korea (MHRCK). Still, if one looks beyond the headlines, a lot more is revealed.
The first news items on this topic appeared as far back as 9 March but went completely unnoticed. Based on statements by several informants, MHRCK stated that while the National Assembly of South Korea was in the process of approving the legislation to impeach the ex-President, Park Geun-hye in response to mass protests that had taken place on 9 December 2016, South Korea’s military command, on more than one occasion, discussed deploying the army.
These plans stemmed from the need to enforce the Presidential decree, approved in 1950 and aimed at protecting certain districts in emergency situations, on deploying the army to a particular district, and ensuring security and civil order there. MHRCK also added that South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff presented a report to the Ministry of National Defense on the need to abolish this decree as it violates basic human rights, but the Minister of National Defense at the time, Han Min-goo, failed to cancel the decree and ordered a review into the possibility of preserving it instead.
This caused a moderate scandal, the new National Defense Minister ordered an investigation, which later revealed that no discussions among the Joint Chiefs of Staff had taken place on the issue of deploying armed forces, while the Ministry of National Defense had looked into the possibility of cancelling the decree or introducing some changes to it,