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Military reform should be prudently made

Posted January. 20, 2018 07:25,   

Updated January. 20, 2018 08:38


South Korea’s military plans to reduce the number of troops to half a million and shorten the mandatary service period of soldiers to 18 months by 2022. The Ministry of National Defense announced the plan at a policy briefing session to Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon Friday. To make the nation’s military a smaller but stronger one, the ministry plans to cut the current 610,000 troops in stages while shortening the military service period to 18 months from the current 21 months. It will lay out more detailed plan in March.

Reducing the troops and shortening the service period is one of the new government’s 100 national political agenda as well as one of election pledges by President Moon Jae-in. As South Korean military pursues a stronger and elite military in line with the global trend toward more advanced and smaller one, the ministry has taken a step in the right direction. However, amid escalating geopolitical tensions by North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats, it is worrying that the government’s hasty military reform might undermine our security.

With the nation’s population being on the decline due to low fertility, some expect that by 2023, South Korea will have less than 500,000 troops available. To make things worse, if the service period is shortened, a serious military vacuum is inevitable. The government is seeking to expand the employment of noncommissioned officers and female soldiers, but it would be a futile effort unless sufficient budget and institutional measures are provided, and the social consensus is formed. On top of that, given the fact that for a rank and file soldier of the Army, who will be the first to have the service period shortened, it takes at least one year to master the combat mission, experienced soldiers’ early discharge will inevitably undermine the army’s strength.

The government’s plan is criticized by the opposition parties for promoting populism ahead of the local elections in June. Some raise question whether the plan attempts to calm young voters amid growing discontent over virtual currency regulation. However, the argument that the military reform must be pushed just because it was a presidential pledge would only make the country’s military weaker. It is not too late to carry out military reform after setting up a transition plan and considering security circumstances on the Korean Peninsula including any development among the two Koreas.