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(EDITORIAL from The Korea Herald on Sept. 8)

All News 07:06 September 08, 2016

Premature idea

South Korea cannot afford volunteer military yet

The issue of turning the current conscription service into a volunteer military system has resurfaced, with Gyeonggi Gov. Nam Kyung-pil taking the lead.
Nam, a potential presidential candidate for the ruling Saenuri Party, suggested in a forum earlier this week that South Korea should transition to a payment-based voluntary military by 2022.

Nam and other advocates argue that the current conscription-based military should give way to a voluntary military in consideration of, among other things, the advent of modern warfare, low birthrate and violence and other incidents involving young draftees.

Some — like young men nearing the draft age and their parents — may be drawn to the arguments, but switching to a voluntary military in just six years is nonsensical for many reasons.

First of all, turning the mandatory military service into an optional paid service will no doubt weaken the security awareness not only of men of conscription age, but the entire population as well.

Now, mandatory military service is something that fosters bonds and patriotism among the entire Korean population. Turning it into a voluntary service will make it only a league of men and women who want to make a living in uniform, with whom the general public will not feel as strong an attachment as now.

This is least desirable, especially considering the current tension heightened by growing threats from North Korea's nuclear bombs and missiles. Aside from the weapons of mass destruction, the North maintains active military personnel over 1 million-strong, compared to 630,000 men and women in the South.

Second, South Korea cannot financially afford to pay a 300,000-strong armed forces whose average monthly salary would be 2 million won ($1,830). It would mean the government shouldering about 7.2 trillion won annually in personnel expenses alone.

The burden would come on top of the already astronomical figures in defense budget needed to modernize and sophisticate our weapons system, like the purchase and development of next-generation jet fighters and aegis-equipped naval ships. The latest threat from the North's nuclear devices and missiles also hasten the need to obtain kill chains and nuclear-powered submarines.

Third, reducing the number of soldiers may prompt the US to cut back on its forces here as well. Think about US Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump when he spoke about "free riders."

All in all, it is too early to think about a volunteer military. It is obvious that politicians make the proposal — along with other habitual suggestions to reduce the conscription period — as part of a populist approach to voters. National security should never be compromised by domestic politics.

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