Impact Player: Jeong Kyeong Doo

Informing audiences about key policy makers in issue areas of importance to U.S.-Korea relations.

Who is he?

On August 8, 2017 President Moon Jae-in nominated General Jeong Kyeong-doo as the Chairman of the Republic of Korea Joint Chiefs of Staff (ROK JCS). After his parliamentary hearing on August 18, Jeong was inaugurated on August 20.

Jeong has had an extensive career in the military serving in the ROKAF and the ROK JCS. Prior to his current post, he served as the 35th Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) Chief of Staff since 2015. He played a crucial role in enhancing South Korea’s defense capabilities by overseeing the deployment of F-35A fighter jets in October 2016 and air-to-ground Taurus missiles in December 2016 to deter North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile threats. Jeong also has direct experience in working with the ROK JCS, having served as Chief Director (J-5) from April 2015 to September 2015.

Over the course of his career, Jeong has acquired ample leadership experience in the air force. Jeong previously served as Vice Chief of Staff of the ROKAF HQ from April 2014 to April 2015, Commander of the Southern Combat Command from April 2013 to April 2014 and Deputy Chief of Staff (A-5) of the ROKAF HQ from November 2011 to April 2013.

Trained as a fighter pilot, Jeong also served as Commander of the 1 st Fighter Wing from November 2009 to May 2011, Commander of the Cadets Group Air Force Academy from December 2008 to November 2009, and Chief of Force Requirement Division of the ROKAF HQ from December 2006 to November 2008.

Jeong graduated with the 30th class of the Korea Air Force Academy (KAFA) in 1982. He also attended the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force Air Command and Staff College in 1995. Jeong received his MA in Management from the Hannam University Graduate School of Business in 2002 and attended the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force Air War College in 2005.

Why has been in the news?

General Jeong Kyeong-doo was nominated as the Chairman of the Republic of Korea Joint Chiefs of Staff by President Moon Jae-in on August 8, 2017. His parliamentary hearing took place on August 18 and he was inaugurated on August 20, making him the first air force official to head the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 23 years.

This is the first time in the Korean military’s 69-year history that Army leaders are excluded from the top two military posts, with President Moon appointing former Chief of Naval Operations Song Young-moo as Minister of National Defense on July 14, 2017. Media reports assess that such a move reflects Moon’s plans to restructure the military to strengthen its navy and air force capabilities.

General Jeong’s nomination is significant as it is part of a wider reshuffle of the country’s military leadership, long riddled with controversy involving graft and abuse of soldiers. The reshuffle included the promotion of six lieutenant generals. During the promotion ceremony, President Moon was quoted stating “I believe we might need a complete defense reform at the level of a rebirth instead of making some improvements or modifications”.

What can we expect from him?

During his confirmation hearing, Jeong emphasized the importance of boosting South Korea’s robust defense posture in the face of North Korea’s nuclear provocations and escalated retaliation after new UN sanctions were introduced. Specifically, he vowed to bolster the country’s three-pronged defense system: the Kill Chain preemptive strike system, the Korean Air and Missile Defense (KAMD) and the Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation (KMPR) plan. His extensive experience in the air force will prove invaluable to President Moon Jae-in, who is seeking to enhance South Korea’s air combat and defense capabilities.

Jeong is also expected to play an important role in future dialogues between the U.S. and South Korea on strengthening defense capabilities. His appointment is timely, as it comes ahead of the annual U.S.-ROK joint military exercises, the Ulchi-Freedom Guardian, which began on August 21. Indeed, Jeong met with Admiral Harry Harris, Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, and General John Hyten, Commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, to inspect the annual military exercises and to reaffirm their unfaltering alliance.

Photo Credit: Ministry of National Defense/Creative Commons

Mi Yeon Kim

Research Intern, Korea Chair