Head of commission: no shorter army service

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Head of commission: no shorter army service

The chief of South Korea’s presidential commission on national security voiced his opposition yesterday to shortening the length of mandatory military service, saying the move would make it impossible for Seoul to maintain its defense capabilities.

All physically fit young men must serve at least two years in the military, but the government had decided to shorten the duration of military service to 18 months by 2014.

“The military wouldn’t be able to keep an optimal level of armed forces if the duration of military service was reduced to 18 months,” said Lee Sang-woo, head of the Presidential Commission for National Security Review, in a telephone interview with Yonhap News Agency.

Lee insisted that the duration of military service should be at least 24 months to maintain professional armed forces at full operational capacity.

Shortening the duration of military service would force South Korea to eventually reduce the number of its troops to about 500,000 by 2020, from the current 655,000.

“Given the threats of North Korea, we can’t drastically cut the number of troops for the time being,” Lee said.

While worries persist over the shortening, the remarks by Lee carried extra weight because his commission was created following the deadly sinking in March of a South Korean warship blamed on North Korea.

The aide said he will report his commission’s comprehensive review of defense reform to President Lee Myung-bak at the end of this month.

South Korean troops, with the backing of some 28,500 U.S. troops stationed here, are facing a North Korean military some 1.1 million troops strong across their heavily armed border. The two Koreas remain technically at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce.

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