January 22, 2018 13:28
The Defense Ministry plans to reduce the Army from 618,000 men to about 500,000 by 2022 and shorten mandatory military service from 21 months to 18. That is the equivalent of two divisions disappearing every year. The plans were originally hatched in 2006, when the North Korean nuclear program was far less of a menace than it is now.
The low birthrate continues to reduce the number of enlisted men, but North Korea is close to developing a nuclear warhead that can be mounted on an intercontinental missile. The head of the defense committee in the U.S. House of Representatives said American troops are training for an actual military engagement with North Korea. Tensions on the Korean Peninsula could escalate into a full-blown war any minute if North Korea refuses to sit down for talks after the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang and resorts to further provocations.
If the land area that will have to be covered by a single Army division expands 50 percent due to the troop cuts, there is no guarantee that South Korean territory can be effectively defended. Bruce Bennett, a researcher at the RAND Corporation, expects 1.5 million ground troops will be needed in case a war breaks out here. If the South Korean Army dwindles to 500,000, it will number only 40 percent the North Korea's 1.2 million. Some may say that foot soldiers are no longer so important in an age of ballistic missiles and fighter jets, but they are still the most effective method of securing territory.
The enlisted men will also be less effectively trained. It takes 12 months for a rifleman to become experienced and 14 months for a tank driver or artilleryman. An Army that cannot retain seasoned soldiers cannot function properly. The government says it will increase the number of non-commissioned officers, but budgetary constraints make this very difficult to achieve.
North Korean soldiers serve up to 12 years in the military. Israel, which is surrounded by enemies, requires men to serve three years and women two. Is the military threat here any weaker than in Israel? Yet presidential candidates habitually promise to reduce mandatory military service. This is simply irresponsible.
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