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[Opinion] Troop Reduction

Posted January. 14, 2005 22:55,   


Taiwan is a prime example of a country that has recently succeeded in large-scale military downsizing. With a population of roughly 22 million in an area no larger than North and South Gyeongsang Provinces combined, Taiwan maintained a comparatively massive military force of 600,000 until the mid 1990s. This figure was trimmed down to 390,000 according to a troop reduction policy which went into effect in the latter half of the 1990s. A cutback of over a third of the entire military was implemented in a period of just 10 years.

How could Taiwan, dubbed the “powder keg of East Asia” due to its acute state of confrontation with mainland China, make such a dramatic decision? The secret lay in the Taiwanese government’s intensive investment in military capabilities, which amounted to 5~6 percent of the GDP each year. The so-called “Scorpion Strategy,” which designates Beijing, the Yangtze delta, the Three Gorges Dam, missile bases, and C4I facilities as five strategic targets for preemptive strikes in emergency situations, was also enabled by these military investments. Taiwan plans to make sizeable purchases in high-tech weaponry, including eight diesel submarines, the latest Patriot missiles, and the P3C anti-submarine patrol aircrafts, over the next 15 years using a budget of $18.2 billion.

Taiwan’s example clearly demonstrates that large-scale troop reductions must be accompanied by corresponding investments in military capabilities. It also shows that the argument for parlaying the savings in the national defense budget created by military downsizing into the welfare budget is erroneous. The army’s research data projects that reducing a single division of 13,000 soldiers would lead to annual savings of approximately 72 billion won. Evaluated in simply quantitative terms, the cost of operating one F-15K fighter jet, with a price tag of some 110 billion won, is equal to that of maintaining two infantry divisions, while the cost of a single 7000-ton KDX-III destroyer, worth over a trillion won, is equivalent to the expense of maintaining no less than 17 infantry divisions.

The ROK military, whose troops currently number over 690,000, will be downsized to around 650,000 by 2008. Building an elite military force by reducing the rank and file of soldiers and dramatically increasing the number of NCOs has been a global trend in military restructuring in recent years. The problem is whether or not appropriate investments are made to cover the gaps created by such downsizing. Rashly pursuing troop reduction without making apposite strides in military investment could merely result in fostering a sense of insecurity among Koreans.

Song Mun-hong, Editorial Writer songmh@donga.com