Heed Commander BellAt a hearing in the U.S. House of Representatives, USKF Commander Burwell Bell expressed worries over the Korean military’s plans to reduce its troops and the period of compulsory service. South Korea needs to be careful about a massive reduction in its military unless North Korea does the same.
As for shortening the period of military service, he pointed out that the measure could pose difficulties in recruitment. It is a serious problem that an American commander in charge of the defense of South Korea raises problems about the military reorganization that the Korean government is emphasizing.
Under its military reforms, the government has decided to reduce the number of soldiers from the current 680,000 to some 500,000. The government, however, did not pay much attention to North Korea’s military threat. The Ministry of Defense explained that even though threats such as nuclear weapons could increase, we will be able to achieve military security along with improved inter-Korean relations.
But Commander Bell disagreed with the Korean government. Mr. Bell made it clear that South Korea should reduce the number of soldiers while preparing for North Korea’s possible threats because it could become a nuclear state in 2009 if diplomatic resolutions fall through.
A gradual reduction of the period of military service is inevitable in a way, considering that available resources exceed the number of soldiers required by the army. The problem is that the government is not fully prepared, which is a prerequisite for these reforms.
For instance, a system to hire professional soldiers has low feasibility. There are no concrete plans to fund that.
The government is considering paying around 1 million won ($950) per month, but for that wage it will have difficulty attracting applicants. Mr. Bell seemed to be aware of these factors.
Military reforms aimed at reducing the number of soldiers and employing high-tech military competence must be pursued. However, North Korea, which possesses nuclear arms, has not taken any military measures to ease tension, let alone reduce its soldiers. North Korea remains a threat.
Mr. Bell’s remarks were meant to stress that we should resolve problems through diplomacy when that is appropriate but we should always be prepared for an emergency. The military authorities should heed that advice.