Military service is crucial

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Military service is crucial

The military conscription program has again kicked up a storm. Former President Roh Moo-hyun signed a defense reform plan that would become effective in 2020, including a gradual scale-down of the military service period from 24 months to 18 months starting in 2014 - the service period has since been cut down to 21 months. But some say further cuts could weaken the country’s security posture amid heightened tension on the Korean Peninsula and instead called for a return to 24 month duration. The National Security Review Council, a presidential advisory board, recommended on Friday that military service return to a full two years. But the president rejected the proposal, considering public backlash it would provoke. The scaled-down plan had been controversial. But politicians passed the legislation with the hope of winning votes. Grand National Party Representative Yoo Seung-min submitted a bill in February to revise the legislation to prevent the duration period from falling to fewer than 22 months but it was rejected by the National Assembly. Yet the problem has been revisited repeatedly because of security concerns. We believe the government and the National Assembly should reconsider the problem of reducing the service period because 18 months could create a huge vacuum in military service.

Under the Ministry of National Defense’s study, the population of 20-year-old men last year numbered 328,000. Of them, 275,000 are eligible for service, or 91.7 percent of 300,000 needed for new recruitment. From 2020 when the reform plan would be fully applied, the conscription-eligible number would reach 284,000, then fall to 248,000 in 2021, and 189,000 in 2025. Even if the total number of military troops is scaled down from the current 650,000 to 500,000 in 2020, full military posture cannot be maintained if the service period is cut to 18 months.

There are other problems.

If Yu’s proposal is used and training and holidays are taken out, servicemen can practice combat skills for just 13 months out of the proposed 22-months. If the service period is reduced by four months, a soldier would get less than a year to properly engage in military service. The men naturally can fall behind in adaptability and capability in dealing with modern, high-tech and delicate weaponry. The 2020 reform plan was mapped out with expectations for an uninterrupted period of peace on the Korean Peninsula. But as recent circumstances show, such a vision has been too romantic and unrealistic. Many of the details, including investment in new arms, have been derailed. The plan must be revised to fix the flaws and to meet today’s needs. Otherwise, our security is heading straight toward an abyss.
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