Forces: South Koreans Downsize Faster


July 21, 2007: South Korea is reorganizing its armed forces for a future that might, or might not, include North Korea. Plans to shrink the size of the armed forces have been speeded up. Last year, the plan was to reduce troop strength 26 percent (from 680,000 to 500,000) by 2020. Now, the plan is to do it over the next five years. 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 todays' voters want to get rid of the draft.

Politicians 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.

Moreover, it's pretty obvious that, despite increased bellicosity from North Korea, economic decline up there has reduced the combat capability of the North Korean armed forces. Added to that, you have the South Koreans are following the example of the U.S., and replacing a lot of troops with technology. South Korea has carefully observed the effectiveness of the American all-volunteer force in Afghanistan and Iraq, and are trying to emulate the Americans. There are still about 30,000 American troops stationed in South Korea, and these are available for South Korea officers and troops to discuss in detail how an all-volunteer, high tech force works. Meanwhile, U.S. forces in South Korea will shrink to 25,000 by the end of the decade.




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