The Defense Ministry expressed caution Friday over President-elect Park Geun-hye’s election pledge to shorten compulsory military service during its policy briefing to her transition committee.
It has argued that the plan to shorten the service term by three months to 18 months could result in a troop shortage and weaken overall combat capabilities, considering the country’s aging population.
The presidential transition team began receiving policy briefings on the day from six of the 46 central government departments and agencies. The briefing by the Defense Ministry was the first of the day, underscoring national security’s high position on the committee’s priority list.
The Small and Medium Business Administration, Ministry of Health and Welfare and Ministry of Environment also briefed the transition team on their ongoing and future projects and policy objectives.
The transition team has decided not to release details of the ministries’ reports to prevent any “unnecessary confusion” regarding policies.
“Any policy confusion could undermine public trust, and then damage the government’s capability to carry out the policy. We ask for your understanding as we take caution about the policy reports,” the team’s spokesperson Yoon Chang-jung told reporters.
During its policy briefing to the presidential transition committee, the Defense Ministry was said to have reaffirmed that it would continue to prepare to retake wartime operational control as scheduled for December 2015.
The transition team and the ministry appear to share the view that the OPCON transfer should be carried out as planned unless North Korea poses a serious security challenge by launching lethal provocations.
To maintain a robust defense posture following the transfer, Kim Jang-soo, who heads the transition team’s subpanel on foreign affairs and defense, has envisioned establishing a combined battle staff consisting of a South Korean commander, a U.S. deputy commander and other officers from the allied militaries.
The allies have been in consultation over a new combined command structure at a joint working group, which was established on Dec. 21. The current Combined Forces Command is to be dissolved following the transfer.
As for the plan to shorten the service term, Park has said that the incoming government would cover the shortage by hiring non-commissioned officers.
The military forecast that should the plan be implemented from this year, the military would suffer an annual shortage of around 27,000 troops by 2030. The calculation is in line with the ongoing government project to reduce the troop number to 522,000 by 2022 from the current 639,000.
The ministry also made a suggestion to increase salaries of military draftees by 20 percent each year for the next five years, in order for Park to make good on her pledge to double them.
Apart from these issues, the ministry also explained to the transition team other plans such as reducing noise around military facilities, increasing the military retirement age, and the inter-Korean project to recover the remains of the soldiers who were killed in action during the 1950-53 Korean War.
During its policy briefing, the Small and Medium Business Administration was said to have argued that the administration should be elevated to a ministerial-level entity independent from the current Ministry of Knowledge and Economy, so as to push for Park’s policy pledges to reinvigorate SMEs.
Meanwhile, 35 new advisers were added to the transition committee, bringing the total number to 152. The experts from various fields will be allocated to each subcommittee of their specialties.
The transition team will open an online center to collect the people’s policy suggestion for the next government, Yoon added.