The genders are just too different
The standard of what should be treated equally can change depending on society. For example, evaluating the effectiveness of men and women at work is something that must be treated equally. But the matter of conscription - at least for now - is not something that can be treated equally. These are the reasons why:
First, when an activity requires mental abilities, not physical strength, there is no reason to discriminate against women. However, for some jobs, there can be a preference between men and women. In the case of military duty, physical activities based on uniform regulations are the primary mission, rather than the mental ability of every individual. Therefore, the physical differences between men and women become critical.
Second, women carry the important burden of childbirth and child-rearing. The Constitution also has a special clause to protect maternity. It is hard to conclude that this burden is lighter than military duty. Of course, some argue that the conscription system must include women by adjusting the period and timing. But that would be a precondition for women’s military duty. It does not mean that military duty has the same meaning for men and women.
Third, differing from countries that operate voluntary militaries, Korea has a conscription system. All men must, by law, serve in the military unless they are ineligible. If the conscription system included women, there would be problems to resolve, like the added expense necessary to accommodate them.
Those who demand the current conscription system should include women do not appear to base their arguments on any accurate analysis of reality. They argue that the military service period could be reduced if women were required to serve, but that largely overlooks the risk of weakened military capabilities. Some argue that women should be required to serve in public jobs in place of military service, but they forget about the reality that alternative service and its opportunity costs.
Norway added women into its armed forces conscription system, but the role of its military is far different from that of Korea, which is technically at war with the North. In the case of Israel, its total population and the necessary strength of its troops are different from the situation in Korea.
The Constitutional Court ruled the current conscription system was constitutional based on such grounds. It is also important to note that the Ministry of National Defense made a specific argument to uphold the system because of its concerns of possible weakening of military capabilities and an increase in expense.
Our society will change in the future, and so too will the role of the military. When the roles and missions of soldiers have largely changed, the male-only conscription system must be reviewed with a new perspective. But the timing is not right for now.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
JoongAng Ilbo, March 22, Page 28
*The author is a professor in the Graduate School of Law at Korea University.
By Chang Young-soo