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South Korea Names Navy Head as Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff

South Korean President Park Geun Hye appointed the head of the navy as the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, under her first senior-level military reorganization since taking office.

Chief of Naval Operations Choi Yoon Hee was picked to replace Jung Seung Jo, whose two-year term ends next month, the Defense Ministry said today on its website. The chiefs of the army and marines and the deputy commander of the combined U.S.- South Korean forces will also be replaced, the Defense Ministry said.

This will be the first time a naval officer has headed the Joint Chiefs, and the change aims to strengthen cooperation between the army, navy, air force and other military services, according to the ministry. Choi’s nomination is subject to parliamentary approval.

Park “may be trying to balance the interests of the services,” Bruce Bennett, a senior defense analyst at Rand Corp., said in an interview in Seoul. “She has to recognize that in any kind of future conflict, the major U.S. contribution to Korea will be air forces and naval forces. Korea will have a major responsibility for the ground force component. So keeping the right balance there is going to be very important.”

South Korea faces North Korea over one of the world’s most heavily armed borders, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War that ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. Tensions between the countries have led South Korea to build an extensive military force with about 640,000 people under arms. The U.S. also has about 28,500 troops stationed in the country as a deterrent against North Korea.

The two Koreas have fought three deadly naval clashes with since 1999. South Korea blames the North for the sinking of a ship that killed 46 sailors in the Yellow Sea in 2010. North Korea denies attacking the ship.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff has been led by army generals except between 1993-94 when an air force officer was at the helm, according to the JCS.

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