3 pieces on war on the peninsulaThe JoongAng Daily took a look at the current monthly magazines to see what issues are foremost in Korean society. At the top of the list were articles dealing with the volatile situation of the peninsula and U.S. forces stationed there. The Monthly Chosun interviewed American officers and heard their views on the anti-U.S. sentiment in Korea. After 10 years of a continuously shrinking budget, the poor state of the Korean Army was covered by the Monthly Joongang, which interviewed several officers and experts who described what they perceived as a crisis to the readiness of the armed services to defend the country.
Officers complain of poor conditions and old equipment
The monthly JoongAng looked back on what 10 years of democratic rule had done to the state of the Korean army. Despite a call for a modern force, reductions in the defense budget had delayed or canceled most modernization plans, and the army was described as being in a horribly poor state.
Until the late 1980s, the defense budget hovered at around 6 percent of the gross domestic product, but it dropped to 3 percent under the Kim Young-sam administration, and to 2 percent under Kim Dae-jung, as public opinion shifted budget priorities from defense to social welfare. The army that was once the backbone of Korea’s military dictatorships became an obstacle to government policy, and under Kim Dae-jung’s sunshine policy, it could not raise its voice and ask for more.
This year, the top echelons of the army decided to ask for the defense budget to be raised to 3 percent of the GDP, calling conditions in the army intolerable.
An army field-grade officer who recently finished his tour at the front told the Joongang about poor conditions at the front and other bases. The officer said that it was far-fetched for people to talk about fielding a modern fighting force when basic living conditions were already so poor.
The officer said that living quarters in the army still look as they did in the 1960s and ’70s, with soldiers living in barracks more than 40 years old, often packed like sardines in a can. The toilets are the same ones used by the troops’ fathers, and battalion-sized units of 400 often use a bathroom suited for 20 people. Instead of having separate uniforms for each season, soldiers use one year-round one, and they have to be satisfied with rolling up and down their long sleeves.
The officer reasoned that these spartan conditions are a major reason why the military is so unpopular with young people these days. He also thought the situation was a contributing factor to many accidents.
In addition to the poor living conditions, the state of the army’s equipment was described as run-down and out-of-date. The officer said that the public needs to be made aware of the facts so that circumstances may be improved. According to the officer, more than 50 percent of the army’s tanks were made in the 1950s and 1960s, and they are dinosaurs whose production has long since been stopped in the United States.
Helicopters such as the UH-1H are similarly ancient, many having served more than 40 years ― that is twice the time typically used in foreign armies.
Tanks that are supposed to run for at least 800 kilometers (500 miles) at a time run only about half that due to the lack of fuel, while only 80 percent of the ammunition needed for training is available. In the case of new weapons such as the Mistral surface-to-air missile system, only 35 percent of the annually needed ammunition is provided.
Another problem the officer cited was the lack of training and training grounds. With civilians complaining about every move the army makes, the army has only about 60 percent of the needed training facilities available, and even in those available areas, commanders often have to think twice before conducting a training exercise. Civilians’ complaints rose to 159 cases last year, compared to 49 cases in 1998.
Lee Sang-hyeon, a researcher at the Sejong Institute, told the Joongang that in order to prepare for the withdrawal of U.S. forces and to replace old equipment over the next 10 to 15 years, Korea needs a defense budget allocating from 3.5 percent to 4.0 percent of the GDP.
Officers involved in managing the budget of the army argued that the defense budget should be treated separately from rest of the budget due to the special circumstances on the peninsula. France, for example, draws up a five-year plan based on need that is then budgeted for accordingly.
Officers emphasized the need for a different method of devising the defense budget that would account for new weapons systems, saying that such matters cannot be delayed without compromising the security and military capability of the country.
U.S. ties vital, says Roh adviser
With all the talk of the relocation of and possible reduction in U.S. military forces stationed in Korea, the Shindonga magazine conducted an interview with Kim Hui-sang, presidential adviser to the Blue House for national defense.
Mr. Kim also touched on several other issues, such as the war in Iraq and Korea’s participation in it and in the subsequent peace, as well as the importance President Roh Moo-hyun places in shaping the future of Korea’s security.
The presidential adviser said that Mr. Roh’s friendly overtures made during his visit to the United States in May were necessary to quell anti-Korean sentiment and solidify support.
Mr. Kim stressed that Korea’s security depended on a healthy and strong relationship with the United States, on Korea’s military capability and on the commitment to security of Koreans.
In his opinion, the president’s visit strengthened ties and reassured the United States of Korea’s desire for good cooperation, and in these respects the visit had to be judged successful.
The adviser added that the quick decision to send Korean forces to Iraq prior toMr. Roh’s visit to the United States can be viewed in the same light.
Mr. Kim also talked about plans to reduce the mandatory military service by two months, saying that the decision came after careful research by the army. The Shindonga presented a view of some regimental level officers who claimed that a shortened term would lead to a less able army.
But Mr. Kim responded that the current situation did not permit a large, professional, standing army, and therefore, to relieve some of the burden that service imposes on Korean men, a reduction of the service time was chosen.
Mr. Kim was also asked what he thought about a possible change in the U.S. 2d division into a more flexible, mobile, fast-reaction-style combat force, as the United States increasingly uses around the world.
He answered that the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq had served as good examples of how future wars will be conducted by the United States, and that the United States’ new military thinking was based on that experience.
Nevertheless, he said, more thought should be given to whether a lighter and smaller strikeforce is suited for the peninsula’s terrain and the threat level posed by North Korean forces.
American officers talk about Korea
The monthly Chosun featured an interview with three American officers who have been selected by the U.S. Army to study at advanced institutions such as Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and who have a special interest in Korea.
The interview focused on the current anti-American atmosphere on the peninsula and other issues concerning the U.S. forces in Korea.
Colonel Eli T.S. Alford, a national security fellow from the Kennedy School who now works at the Pentagon planning and analyzing the deployment of American bases, said that despite anti-American sentiments and protests, cooperation between the two countries would not be affected.
Captain Jin H. Park, who received a master’s degree in public policy from the Kennedy School, said that the economic and military rise of South Korea may have shifted perceptions among the public about U.S. forces, but he, too, agreed that the principles of the relationship between the two countries still worked.
Major James Minnich, who was stationed for six years in Korea, thought that a change in the relationship would result in the reduction of U.S. forces stationed on the peninsula. He warned that many Koreans seemed not to realize the grave threat that North Korea poses.
When the officers were asked what they thought about the deepening dislike of the U.S. military in Korea, Colonel Alford, saying that he did not know what to make of the anti-American feelings, reflected on the tens of thousands of Americans who died defending the country. Major Minnich said that expressions of anti-American feelings are the results of the democracy that has taken root in the country and he did not feel any betrayal. Nevertheless, he said, service members who are able to bring their families over worry most about the possible dangers posed to them, yet a life confined to the bases is not appealing.
Mr. Park added that a tour in Korea for most personnel means a one-year term separated from families, and that only in a few cases are family members allowed here. In his opinion, anti-American feelings have added little appeal to an already unpopular assignment.
All three officers stressed that the threat from North Korea had not diminished, as some South Koreans believe. Colonel Alford emphasized that Korea needs to prepare for any situation. He quoted an expression that is inscribed at the Korean War Veterans memorial park: “Freedom is not free.”
by Brian Lee