Defense budget is rising 4% in 2016

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Defense budget is rising 4% in 2016

The government proposed on Tuesday a national defense budget of 39 trillion won ($32.5 billion) for next year, up 4 percent from this year, in the face of possible North Korean threats.

“The defense budget will increase to reflect the North Korean situation including the recent case of its provocation,” said Vice Minister of Strategy and Finance Bang Moon-kyu in a press conference Tuesday.

The Ministry of Strategy and Finance submitted the Cabinet-approved budget proposal for 2016 to the National Assembly earlier that day.

It reflected concerns of provocations from Pyongyang and calls for bolstering military strength at the demilitarized zone (DMZ) ? where two soldiers were maimed on Aug. 4 after stepping on land mines planted by North Korea, according to South Korea ? purchasing new artillery and countering submarine threats by the North. Pyongyang initially denied planting the mines triggered on Aug. 4 but later issued a rare expression of “regret” in a joint agreement signed later that month.

Despite an agreement reached Tuesday to hold reunions of families separated in the Korean War (1950-53) from Oct. 20 to 26, there are still concerns that Pyongyang may test-fire a long-range rocket in October to celebrate the founding of the North Korean Workers’ Party, which South Korea and the international community would consider a provocation and a violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions.

Song Un-seok, a budget official of the Finance Ministry, said at the press conference, “While it would have been appropriate to raise the budget by 3 percent, there was a readjustment to 4 percent after agreement that with the recent situation [with North Korea], military reinforcement around the DMZ was urgently needed.”

The total national defense budget has steadily increased over the years and was 37.456 trillion won in 2015, up from 28.5326 trillion won in 2009.

The budget for bolstering defenses in the DMZ was 3.28 trillion won for 2016, up 40.6 percent from this year’s 2.1361 trillion won.

A larger budget to improve military culture will be earmarked, which involves higher wages for soldiers, increased benefits for dangerous missions and purchases of books.

The Ministry of National Defense has emphasized the need for more funds to improve soldiers’ welfare and conditions in the barracks.

Korea will also acquire new drones, including a high-altitude unmanned aerial vehicle that can fly for 24 hours and improve its striking abilities with K9 Thunder self-propelled howitzers, and K2 battle tanks. It will also expand its anti-submarine warfare strategy by building 3,000-ton submarines and increase its budget in this sector to nearly 1.7 trillion won, up 5.4 percent from 2015. 

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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