Leadership: September 11, 2005

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A major battle is underway in South Korea, between the government and the army. At issue is a proposed reorganization of the armed forces. The politicians, and most of the voters, believe it is inevitable that the communist government in North Korea will eventually collapse, and no longer be a threat. The reform plan, which has been in the works for years, will take fifteen years to complete. But by 2020 the army would have six corps instead of 13, twenty divisions instead of 47 and 26 percent fewer troops (500,000 instead of 680,000). The reserves would be reduced even more, from 3 million to 1.5 million. Conscription would not be eliminated, but it would be used less. The army would provide higher pay for the Special Forces (sort of like the U.S. Rangers), to encourage volunteers. Conscripts who wanted to make the army a career, would immediately receive much higher pay once they agreed to stay in, when their conscription service was over. Ultimately, an all-volunteer forces would be preferred. But right now, that would cost too much money. 

The reform also includes turning the coast guard into a police organization, and stationing specially trained brigades to watch the DMZ, rather than combat divisions full of conscripts. The special DMZ brigades would contain more volunteers, and be able to cover the DMZ using fewer troops (and more robots and high-tech sensors.) The reforms also include greater use of precision missiles, rockets and bombs. One of the proposals is to organize missiles and MLRS units (firing GPS guided rockets) into a separate organization. 

In all, the reforms want to make the armed forces smaller and more lethal. In this respect, the reformers have been much influenced by the American experience with volunteer troops and high-tech. American combat units have been stationed in South Korea for over half a century, so South Koreans have been able to observe the changes in the American army since the draft was eliminated three decades ago. The South Koreans have also been impressed by the American performance in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan. South Korean units that train with American troops have also experienced these changes up close. The better trained, and now combat experienced, U.S. soldiers are clearly better at fighting. So, the South Koreans are headed in that direction. Its expected that many of the current generals will fight the reforms, if only because the smaller army (a 36 percent cut, to 350,000 troops) will mean fewer jobs for senior officers.

 


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