The Korea Herald


Women, old men in military? Korea debates solutions for looming conscript shortfall

By Korea Herald

Published : Feb. 2, 2024 - 15:33

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Able-bodied men in South Korea are required to serve in the military for 1 1/2 years or longer. (123rf) Able-bodied men in South Korea are required to serve in the military for 1 1/2 years or longer. (123rf)

Reforming military obligations for men in South Korea has always been a flashpoint for heated debate. But recently, fuel has been added to the fire with the emergence of two rather radical ideas.

One idea came from professor Choi Young-jin of Chung-Ang University in Seoul, who proposed in an op-ed for a local daily the formation of a "senior army" composed of men aged 55 to 75 to address an anticipated shortfall in military personnel.

In South Korea, which faces the nuclear-armed, belligerent North Korea to the north, all able-bodied men are required to serve in the military for one year and six months to one year and nine months, depending on the branch.

The professor’s suggestion was a counterresponse to a policy pledge made by Lee Jun-seok, the former leader of the ruling People Power Party who is now chief of the fledgling Reform Party, to require women to serve in the military by 2030 to qualify for police and firefighting positions, as a way to make up for the dwindling demographic of young, male conscripts.

“Drafting women into the Army is not wise for a country that should make its utmost effort to encourage births,” Choi said in his column for the vernacular Hankyoreh.

He went on to say that the country should instead tap into the pool of healthy, senior males.

“Currently, there are about 6.91 million men aged between 55 and 75, a significant number of whom are prepared to take up arms for the country once again."

South Korea maintains approximately 500,000 active-duty troops, but with the birth rate dropping to a minuscule 0.78, experts are warning of a significant decline in military resources. A birth rate to support a stable population is thought to be approximately 2.1 children born per woman in her lifetime.