In light of recent events in the Korean military a debate was held on CBS Radio, led by Hyun-jung Kim. The two panels that were invited to speak, Dae-yeong Kim a member of the Korean Defense Forum and retired air force colonel, Ho-yeong Jin had an open discussion of whether the military should continue to draft civilians to serve their mandatory 2 years, or if they should transfer into a new volunteer system as most developed countries of the world do now. Many Korean citizens and military experts have started to call for change, and the two speakers had a chance to discuss whether it would be possible.
Dae-young Kim of the Defense Forum stated that Korea is not yet capable of constructing an environment to have citizens volunteer to serve in the armed forces. He explained that the government and Korean citizens have to take in the nation’s current situation into account. Korea is technically still in war with North Korea, and in the case of a full-scale invasion by the rogue state, the South must have all the forces it can to retaliate and defend their borders.
Right now the Republic of Korea has around 600,000 active personnel, 500,000 of whom are part of the ground forces. Other experts however, have pointed out that Japan while it has only 300,000 active personnel in its Self Defense Forces, its military capabilities greatly exceeds that of the Korean military.
Kim responded by pointing out that because Japan and other states like the U.K. do not require a large ground force because of its geographic locations. However, since over 70 percent of Korea’s terrain is mountain regions, despite possessing a great deal of state of the art weaponry, a large number of infantry is required to occupy areas and carry out operations to the max. He also pointed out the Ministry of Defense does not have the funds to support such a large military should all the troops become volunteers. They would have to maintain an infantry of only 300,000 troops and in addition they may not be able to continue modernizing their weaponry.
Colonel Jin on the other hand expressed that Korea is perfectly capable of starting a volunteer military system. His view was that if men were to choose to join the army and receive a paycheck that’s enough to earn them a living, then it would have a positive effect on the unity of the troops and more importantly, their combat capabilities. Incidents such as the murder of Private Yoon last month will be much less likely to happen.
He also expressed that even if the Ministry of Defense could only afford to maintain half its personnel by paying the soldiers around 1,500 to 2,000 USD a month, this is will not mean the power of their armed forces will also be downsized. Since only half the infantry will be maintained, the Ministry of Defense could use the remaining funds to continue to modernize its weaponry.
He added that the only countries in the world that still use the draft system are the two Koreas and Israel. Other more powerful nations such as the U.K. Japan and France all possess a military of only 200,000 to 300,000 and yet military experts believe that their capabilities and firepower greatly overpower those of Korea. In the case of an invasion by North Korea, if the military maintains enough reserved troops then they could easily gather a task force of 500,000.
Right now Korea is believed to have the world’s 11th largest and most powerful military in terms of size and both quantity and quality of its weapons. However, the nation is surrounded by other nations that boast larger and much more powerful militaries, such as Japan, Russia, China and even North Korea which has the third largest army and submarine fleet in the world and even nuclear missile capabilities.