Defense Reform Plans Leave S.Korea Dangerously Exposed

      July 30, 2018 13:32

      The government announced plans last Friday to downsize the number of drafted soldiers by 118,000 and shorten the mandatory draft from 21 to 18 months as part of defense reforms. No sooner had the plan been announced than Chinese, Japanese and U.S. military jets and warships engaged in a war of nerves in South Korean skies and seas.

      China sent yet another surveillance aircraft into South Korea's air defense identification zone without the customary warning. It flew around 90 km east of Gangneung, Gangwon Province and stayed inside the zone for no fewer than four hours and 17 minutes. At the same time, Chinese Navy boats also approached too close to Korean shores. This was the fourth time this year alone that a Chinese surveillance aircraft breached the identification zone.

      At the same time, the U.S. and Japan were holding joint military drills on the East Sea. Two American B-52 bombers that took off from Guam joined Japanese F-15 fighter jets for the drills.

      Russia has also been testing the limits. On July 13, two Russian bombers breached the South Korean ADIZ four times without warning. The ADIZ does not delineate official air space, but it is customary for aircraft to identify themselves to the host country before entering it. Russia and China continue to snub this perfectly reasonable practice.

      Also, China last week deployed the S-400 Triumph, which is a Russian version of the U.S.' Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense battery, and plans to conduct test launches soon. The S-400's radars have a maximum range of 700 km, enough to spy on the entire Korean Peninsula. By contrast the THAAD batteries deployed in South Korea have yet to become fully functional due to resistance from local residents and environmental red tape.

      The security dynamics in Northeast Asia can fluctuate violently. In this environment a rock-solid defense is essential. But the government here has such a starry-eyed outlook for the Northeast Asian political landscape that it is willing to slash troops even though North Korea has no intention of scrapping its nuclear weapons. And even if North Korea does denuclearize, South Korea remains surrounded by superpowers with their own designs on the region and its sovereign territories. Seoul cannot afford any mistakes when it comes to defense.

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