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[Editorial] Need for small but strong military

Posted January. 26, 2001 15:50,   


With the Defense Ministry`s recent instruction to the army, navy and air force to work out plans for a 10-percent reduction in personnel expenses, there is growing concern with the extensive restructuring in the defense sector. The ministry disclosed that it would establish a comprehensive military restructuring plan based on the three services` manpower restructuring programs. But it is doubtful whether the ministry`s instruction was given due contemplation.

The ministry direction to cut personnel expenses is not unexpected in light of reductions in the ministry`s budget outlays over the past years. The ministry`s outlay on personnel accounted for 36.6 percent of its total budget in 1999, 38.5 percent in 2000 and 42.1 percent this year. It could hardly be considered appropriate for more money to be spent on personnel than on the reinforcement of the nation`s defense capability.

In order to push ahead with restructuring plans that extend beyond the reduction of personnel disbursements, the government will have to clearly define the nation`s primary enemy and precisely judge the military strength of neighboring countries. The Defense Ministry made it clear at the National Assembly last year that the primary threat to national security was posed by North Korea. Pyongyang protested the announcement, but nothing should change as long as the North maintains its goal of communizing the peninsula by force.

There are also significant potential threats to the national security from neighboring states. In recognition of the fact that it is difficult for a small country like Korea to sustain a self-reliant defense capability, the nation ought to make the most of multinational security systems and the existing mutual defense treaty with the United States. Since the nation would find it difficult to overpower its neighbors based on its existing military strength, it needs to undertake a sufficient build-up and encourage other countries to set up security alliances with the South.

In line with its security goals, the military should be reorganized such that it becomes a small but strong force that places the minimum possible financial burden on the people.

In this regard, essential is overall reform of the nation`s military strategies, weapons systems and manpower deployments. The ministry`s announced measures for personnel restructuring, which involve the reduction of high-ranking military officials and withholding of assignments to servicemen who have remained without an assignment for a certain period, are too fragmentary. It is open to debate as to whether the ministry has held an adequate number of consultations with experts inside and outside the ministry. As a nation`s defense policy has a key role in ensuring its ongoing existence, this crucial question must not be handled within the framework of the ongoing corporate and financial sector restructuring.

Many experts have pointed out that Korea needs to revise its defense strategy toward building up its naval and air force strength rather than its ground forces. In this way, the nation would raise its profile in the multinational security arena. At the same time, weapons systems and manpower will have to be restructured such that the nation develops a scientific and technologically advanced military. Now is the time for the nation to establish a Korean military that that is not dependent on support from advanced nations.