Follow the Right PlanThe Ministry of National Defense has begun an extensive project to restructure the armed forces with a view to cutting its payroll by 10 percent within the next five years. The money thus saved will be invested primarily in modernizing military equipment and weaponry. Defense Minister Cho Seong-tae recently directed the army, navy and air force to prepare proposals, and their plans giving the specifics of the reduction are supposed to be finalized this month.
Since state-of-the-art weaponry is the determining factor in modern warfare, the plan to reduce forces while upgrading weapons appears to be the right path to take. It is also significant in that the military will now be participating in the difficult restructuring going on throughout the country in public utilities, banks and corporations. We think a very important point to make here, however, is that the plan should not stop at merely reducing the payroll but must be carried out as part of a long-range master plan to turn our armed services into the most up-to-date, elite military organizations they can be.
The payroll accounts for 42.1 percent of this year's national defense budget. This is considerably higher than the 33.9 percent allocated for weapons procurement. The ministry explains that reduction of the payroll is unavoidable if the share of the budget earmarked for new equipment is to be raised to a more reasonable 40 percent. It is looking into the feasibility of greatly reducing the number of officers ranking colonel and above by assigning brigadier generals and colonels as division commanders instead of major generals and brigadier generals.
Another possibility being investigated is that of revising the Military Personnel Law, which guarantees retirement age by rank, so that after a certain length of time without an assignment, officers will be discharged. This is the opposite of the trend in advanced countries, where troop reductions are leading to more mobile, mechanized forces centered on a permanent core of ranking officers.
Admittedly, the fact that we face the North Koreans across the DMZ is a special situation that calls for large numbers of troops to patrol the border, but this has little to do with the issue of mod ernizing the military. The need to reduce our forces was brought up at the beginning of the present administration, when the Ministry of National Defense announced that it intended to bring the total number of troops down from 690,000 to 300,000 by 2030. The thrust of the government's plan for national defense reform was to strengthen the navy and air force, while reducing the number of troops but increasing strategic weaponry and electronic equipment. The restructuring being proposed now must be carried out in a way that is consistent with these plans.
It is said that even in military circles some are voicing criticism that the ministry's rush to get the plan done ioby the end of this monthl. is just for show. According to experts, restructuring of the armed forces should begin with readjustment of overlapping interservice functions, elimination of some unnecessary bases and enhancement of the capabilities we really need; and it should be an overall revamping that follows the master plan in a step-by-step fashion. Changing the course of reform and restructuring just because the minis- ter has been changed could have a demoralizing influence on the military. We hope that the Ministry of National Defense's efforts to reduce the payroll will not depart in any detrimental way from the original plan to make our forces the best that they can be.
by Joseph W. Chung