Experts are calling for a gradual phasing out of mandatory military service rather than complete abolition. The Roh Moo-hyun administration anticipated that military tension on the Korean Peninsula will ease after 2020 and pointed to the large number of countries who have abolished or are abolishing conscription.
France replaced the draft with a volunteer military in the 1990s and Italy in 2003. Taiwan has introduced a substitute military service system which reduces the overall service period to deal with surplus manpower. Germany stuck to conscription after unification but reduced the service period to nine months while raising the proportion of volunteers.
Most countries have adopted either a volunteer system or a mixed system due to reduced security threats or reduced numbers of soldiers as a result of military reform plans.
But experts here say Korea should not abolish conscription completely after 2020 given the security situation, manpower, people's perception of military service, and available funds.
According to analysis by Dr. Jung Joo-sung of the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, the country would need to spend another W6 trillion (US$1=W1,223) per year if it replaces conscripts with volunteers while maintaining forces at 500,000. This would mean an increase of about 25 percent in defense spending. And if it were to cut troops to 300,000, the country would need another W2.5 trillion.
To maintain 500,000 professional soldiers, the country would have to recruit about 120,000 volunteers every year. But analysis shows that it would be difficult to fill the quota, which would at best stretch to 300,000 troops.
"If we keep the standing force at 500,000, we'd still need about 59 percent of conscripts even after 2020," Jung said. "As a preparation to a fully professional military, we'll need to come up with a mixed system focusing on conscripts and then increase the proportion of volunteers step by step after 2020 by giving priority to them."