Conscripting naturalized Koreans makes sense

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Conscripting naturalized Koreans makes sense

David Shin
The author is an associate research fellow at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses.


The people of Korea were once soldiers or had family members who were soldiers. As a result, the people of Korea are very sensitive when it comes to the subject of fair and just participation of mandatory military service. But interestingly, although the recently announced “Conscription of Naturalized Citizens” conform to the notions of “Fair and Just Participation of mandatory military service,” people have conflicting opinions in regards to whether it is right or wrong.

Those who support the conscription of naturalized citizens claim, “As naturalized citizens of Korea are citizens of our nation, their participation in mandatory military service is both fair and their duty. All Korean citizens are entitled to their rights, as well as their duties.” On the other hand, to those who disagree on the conscription argue, “How can you trust Chinese-Korean naturalized citizens who enter the Korean military, it is akin to sending spies.”

These conflicting views may be due to the perception toward multiculturalism rooted deeply in our minds. In other words, behind the discussion of the conscription of naturalized citizens, there is a social conundrum that the people must work together to resolve in a multicultural era. Korea, out of 30 countries in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), is ranked poorly in regards to the Social Integration Indicator. The national sentiment of Korea sharply differentiates and divides what is domestic and what is foreign. The rapid and continuous influx of foreigners can be another element of social conflict.

As a result, is it not possible for one to view the conscription of naturalized citizens as an extension of our generation’s inevitable flow toward diversified society? Where it is the cornerstone of greater social integration in Korea?

The implementation of conscription of naturalized citizens will achieve greater social integration through the creation of the social capital and expansion of shared national sentiments. First, mandatory military service for nationalized citizens will be a valuable path for them to gain a social network in Korea.

The 18 months of mandatory military service will be more than long enough for naturalized citizens to spend time with many different citizens of Korea, learning different domestic cultures and sentiments. This will eventually help naturalized citizens to build social capital.

Secondly, participation in mandatory military service will help to close the gap between the different domestic and foreign national sentiments of Korea, further integrating the social integration within the nation. For Koreans, especially men, their experience and memories of serving in the Korean Military take a strong presence in regards to their daily social understandings.

As nationalized citizens participate in mandatory service, they will be able to integrate with Korean society more effectively as the military experience serves as a strong medium for entering the rather exclusive Korean national sentiment.

The implementation of Conscription of Naturalized Citizens, alone cannot achieve direct Social Integration but can aid in its efforts. It will take monumental efforts from both the natural and naturalized citizens of Korea. Thus, citizens of Korea should eagerly accept naturalized citizens and embrace naturalized citizens’ rights and duties.

At the same time, naturalized citizens of Korea must recognize their rights and willingly and actively serve their duties, so that they can be accepted as true Koreans.

Finally, it must be said that there is no doubt that the conscription of naturalized citizens is a burden and an obstacle for the military. Even within the military, there are differing opinions for and against the conscription of naturalized citizens.

Especially, among commanding officers, they vocally express their worries as they will have firsthand experience of the difficult adoption of naturalized citizens into the military.

If any problems or tensions were to arise as a result of accidents or wrongdoing, the military will become the first to be blamed and responsible.

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