S.Korea's Military Capability 'Inadequate'

      January 29, 2010 11:25

      An American academic says South Korea's military capabilities are inadequate to handle a North Korean invasion or other North Korean military action or regime collapse there. In an article entitled "Managing Catastrophic North Korea Risks," Bruce Bennett, a senior policy analyst at the RAND Corporation, said South Korea could face a crisis if it fails to enhance its military capabilities through modernization of equipment and personnel capable of using and maintaining it.

      He cited South Korea's outdated weapons, inadequate military budget, and reduced conscription period as the rationale for his claim. Many major South Korean weapon systems "are very old, such as M48 tanks and F-5 aircraft originally designed and produced three decades or more ago," he said. By contrast, "the U.S. military spends some 16 times as much as the [South Korean] military on equipment acquisition each year despite the U.S. forces having only twice as many personnel. U.S. military research and development spending is some 50 times" South Korean spending each year.

      The 20th Army Division conducts a river-crossing drill.

      He said that the South Korean military budget "has been too small to acquire key military capabilities. Thus few [South Korean] soldiers have GPS to identify their own or adversary locations with accuracy, making precision battlefield attacks difficult and increasing the potential for friendly fire. But in civilian life, many soldiers have GPS in their cars."

      He pointed out that South Korea and the United States have worked together for almost 60 years "to deter and defeat North Korean military threats. But while the United States remains ready to assist" South Korea, Seoul's security is ultimately Seoul's responsibility and it "must take the lead." South Korea's military budget is inadequate for "assuring the security of the Korean people from North Korea's catastrophic threats," he added.

      To enhance military capabilities, the Defense Ministry in 2005 prepared a Defense Reform Plan 2020, requiring 9.9 percent annual military budget increases for 2006 through 2010. "Instead, the average increase has only been 7.2 percent, placing the 2010 military budget roughly W3.5 trillion behind the plan," he said (US$1=W1,153).

      Bennett also complains about the reduced conscription period. South Korea "faces a serious birthrate problem. From 1977 to 2002, [it] had more than 400,000 young men turn draft age almost every year. But in 2009 only about 325,000 young men turned draft age, and by 2023 that number will be less than 250,000," he said. "Shorter conscription periods reduce the number of conscripts, and also reduce the average level of conscript experience (their military quality)."

      He advised that Seoul enhance its capabilities urgently, citing the possibility of a North Korean invasion or other North Korean military action or its collapse, and "Korean unification -- a potentially very large and long-term job." Seoul needs to take practical measures for "substantial [military] budget increases," he added.

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