Shaping up needed

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Shaping up needed

The Ministry of National Defense Tuesday announced it drew up a defense budget of 40.335 trillion won ($36.5 billion) for next year, a 1.54 trillion won increase compared to this year. The largest-ever budget is aimed at reinforcing our defense capability in the face of North Korea’s increasing nuclear and missile threats. To achieve that goal, the ministry plans to elevate the capability of our “Kill Chain” system, aimed at destroying North Korean missiles before they are launched, and the KAMD system, aimed at intercepting incoming North Korean missiles at terminal stages.

In detail, the ministry earmarked 987.1 billion won for purchasing F-35A stealth fighters, 176.5 billion won to secure the next generation Aegis-equipped destroyers, and 364.5 billion won to obtain K-2 tanks. The military also raised sergeants’ monthly paychecks to 216,000 won, double the amount in 2012, and is spending more money to improve the living conditions of soldiers.

In terms of total amount, our defense budget for 2017 is the 10th largest in the world. But the rank slips to 48th when we take into account our per capita defense budget per year, which stands at $58,000. That suggests the labor-intensive structure of our military resulting from the harsh reality in which we must confront 1.2 million North Korean soldiers, while bracing for the North’s ballistic missile attacks and weapons of mass destruction at the same time. Therefore, it is desirable to transform our military into a more modernized one with strong technological leverage. Effective implementation of the budget is also important.

But the military stops way short of our justifiable expectations. The ministry does not seem to be interested in revamping our inefficient military structure, as seen in the scant progress in establishing a so-called creative national defense since the launch of the Park Geun-hye government in 2013.

Moreover, despite endless threats from the North’s nuclear tests and firing of submarine-launched ballistic missiles, our military does not react in a professional way. The Navy is still bent on securing Aegis ships instead of finding effective countermeasures. The Army wants more K-2 tanks even when there is less demand on the frontline.

Our military’s reaction to the North’s provocations is also problematic. North Korea successfully launched an SLMB last month after one-year of trials. It also succeeded in firing an intermediate-range Musudan missile after five failures. Our defense ministry appears to be flustered by the North’s offensives. The ministry must shape up.

JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 7, Page 34
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