Votes don’t trump securityMembers of the National Assembly’s National Defense Committee drew up a bill to relocate 16 air bases nationwide in an apparent move to gain votes from the constituencies’ residents. The lawmakers did not explain where the money for relocation would come from or how to deal with potential protests from local governments and residents of new sites after the relocation. The hassle would instead be hoisted upon the Ministry of National Defense after the election.
The government and military authorities fear tension will rise between residents living near air bases and the military over the relocation plan. Residents close to other major military compounds, like shooting ranges and training centers, may make similar demands. The demands could undermine the public consensus that citizens must put up with some inconvenience for military necessities due to our particular security status quo with North Korea. Members of the defense committee should know better and place top priority in national security instead of chasing votes.
Military air bases do cause a lot of inconvenience to residents. Many would be tempted to petition against aircraft noise and the building regulations. The military pays the residents 170 billion won ($151 million) a year in compensation. Of course, the money cannot ease all their discomfort. But most of them have endured because they value the military.
The relocation of a military air base is no simple task. To build one, a compound needs to be 6.6 million to 9.9 million square meters (1,630 to 2,445 acres) in size. In order not to cause noise problems with residents, the military requires an extra 33 million square meters. It could take up two to three villages and communities, requiring the locals to move out of the area. Such an enormous relocation project needs to be studied and prepared over a long time.
The same committee members have more or less killed the defense reform bill aimed at strengthening defense capacity after North Korea’s deadly attacks on the Cheonan and Yeonpyeong Island. The bill was supported by two-thirds of the committee members and more than 70 percent of the public. The bill had been orchestrated by Shin Hak-yong, a member of the opposition Democratic United Party and head of the bill review subcommittee. The subcommittee, however, passed the air base relocation bill in merely three hours of review. Lawmakers in charge of making defense legislation appear to be worried more about their seats than national security.