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Ministry vows to cut mandatory military service period despite public concerns

South Korea's defense ministry said Thursday it remains committed to implementing President Moon Jae-in's election pledge to shorten the mandatory service period of rank-and-file soldiers by three months.

The change is part of the liberal Moon administration's "Defense Reform 2.0" campaign aimed at making the country's armed forces smaller but stronger.

Under the scheme, the number of South Korean troops will decrease to half a million by 2022 from the current 625,000, which includes 483,000 Army service members.

The service period of Army soldiers will be reduced to 18 months.

Choi Hyun-soo, spokesperson for the Ministry of National Defense (Yonhap)
Choi Hyun-soo, spokesperson for the Ministry of National Defense (Yonhap)

But many people have misgivings about whether it's feasible given the time needed to train soldiers who are mostly high school graduates or college students.

According to research by the state-funded Korea Institute for Defense Analysis, armored forces and maintenance troops in particular need to serve in the military at least 21 months to achieve a high skill level.

"Now that this is about a (presidential) campaign pledge, we will clearly and precisely carry it out," Choi Hyun-soo, spokesperson for the Ministry of National Defense, said at a press briefing. "We are reviewing various options with the aim of completing it within the (president's) tenure." Moon's five-year tenure ends in May 2022.

She stressed that the ministry won't ignore the importance of strengthening combat power.

Choi said the ministry aims to announce the details of ways to curtail the military service time by the end of this month.

"However, we don't rule out the possibility that it will take more time," she said, adding that a decision will be made after crafting effective measures to address public concerns.

She dismissed criticism that the move to adjust the military service period is apparently "security populism."

"The complexion of warfare is changing. It's not a format to depend only on troops as before," she pointed out. "The military will continue investment in firepower to match modernization, while considering how to ease the youth's burden for military service." (Yonhap)