LKP calls for suspension of plan to shrink armed forcesThe chairman of the parliamentary defense committee on Monday called for the suspension of the government’s plan to curtail its forces and shorten mandatory service terms for conscripts.
Rep. Kim Hack-yong of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party stressed that troop strength is still crucial given that North Korea’s 1.28 million-strong military far outnumbers South Korea’s 625,000-strong military.
Last week, the Defense Ministry reaffirmed its plan to reduce the number of troops to half a million by 2022. It also said the mandatory service period of rank-and-file soldiers will be shortened to 18 months in stages from the current 21 months.
The envisioned troop draw-down is in line with President Moon Jae-in’s election pledge.
“Given that the number of the North’s troops more than doubles that of South Korean troops, and with the military demarcation line just 50 kilometers [31 miles] away from Seoul, physical military strength is of great importance,” he said in a statement.
“Our military will become weak should [the government] press ahead to meet the goal and schedule in line with [Moon’s] election pledge,” he added.
Kim said there has been no change in the security environment on the peninsula, which has been destabilized by Pyongyang’s unrelenting provocations, such as nuclear tests and long-range ballistic missile launches, throughout the past year.
“Though there has been a mood for inter-Korean dialogue on the occasion of the upcoming PyeongChang Olympics, nothing has changed in the security environment,” he said. “In the face of the security crisis, we need to increase troops and service terms .?.?. but the plan to reduce troops is an act of going backwards.”
The Moon administration has sought the troop reduction as it apparently anticipates a decrease in the number of draftees due to the country’s woefully low birthrate. The government seeks to capitalize on military technologies to cover any future personnel shortages.
But critics argue that even if technology helps run the military, any military contingency would require large numbers of troops specialized for various peacetime, wartime and post-war operations, including stabilization missions.