South Korea is reorganizing its
armed forces, reducing the head count and increasing the use of technology. The
military is in the midst of a program to reduce troop strength 26 percent (from
680,000 to 500,000) by 2012. The reasons for all this are many. A falling birth
rate is producing fewer young men to conscript, but the booming economy is
producing more money, and technology, for more effective weapons and equipment
that can replace soldiers. Conscription is increasingly unpopular. The current
crop of conscripts have parents who were born after the Korean war (1950-53),
and only the grandparents (a rapidly shrinking group) remember why the draft is
still necessary. Most of today's voters want to get rid of the draft.
the generals think of all this? Some of the generals want a smaller army so
they can professionalize it, with a goal of having an all-volunteer force.
Conscription is getting more unpopular, and the draftees are becoming less
enthusiastic about their service. Another faction of the generals believe a
larger army is needed to help deal with a collapse of the North Korean
government. They expect a lot of unrest in the north if things fall apart.
Other generals believe the reserves could be mobilized for this, and the active
force should be cut so living conditions of the remaining troops can be
improved. Today's conscripts are not as tolerant of the shabby military
housing, which was always a problem. But most of todays teenagers grew up in
modern housing, and the culture shock of living in some of those ancient
barracks is hard to take. Finally, all generals fear a reduction in army size
because that will mean a lot less jobs for generals.
are responding to this by shrinking
service 25 percent, to 18 months, and assigning more conscripts to jobs in the
police or social welfare organizations. Eventually, South Korea would like to
have an all-volunteer force. But that won't be affordable until the armed
forces are down to only a few hundred thousand. That's won't happen as long as
North Korea has a million man army aimed south.
the continued threat of the North Korean army, South Koreans, especially young
ones, are becoming increasingly less enthusiastic about doing their army
service. Draft dodging is on the increase, and even within the armed forces,
there are fewer volunteers for more challenging jobs, like being a commando.
Previously, only NCOs (sergeants) were recruited for army commando units. But
that has not been enough of late, so the army is allowing lower ranking troops
to volunteer. The marines have long recruited lower ranking troops for commando
jobs, and been successful at it. So now the army is following the marine
example. But the loss of enthusiasm is disquieting to many South Koreans,
especially the older ones who remember the last time the North Korean army came
Korea is increasing its defense spending nearly 20 percent ($8.5 billion) this
year. That means a total defense budget of nearly $33 billion. Adjusted for
inflation, that's more than twice what was spent ten years ago. While South
Korea has been practicing very conciliatory diplomacy towards North Korea, it
has also been upgrading its military capabilities. This means the South Korean
armed forces have equipment that is often several generations ahead of what is
used up north.