Too Early, Too Hasty
The fundamental drawbacks of the volunteer military service
THE PUBLIC roared with fury. They shouted for fundamental change, as recent events of violence in the military have showed that the conscription system is not working well for Korea. In fact, this is not the first time in Korean society that the change into a voluntary military system was insisted. Every now and since the media spotlighted deaths followed by military violence, the public demanded the abolition of the current system, judging that such problems will not be simply overcome. However, is it really the system that triggers inhumane violence in the military? Will the chronic problem be solved when the system is changed? As there are numerous doubts and skepticism over the transition, it is upfront to discuss why the voluntary military system is difficult to be implemented in reality.
For all and every change in the nation, the budget issue is the sticking point. The transition into a voluntary military system requires the finance that is beyond the current budget capacity. Currently, the average amount of labor cost given to 500,000 conscripted soldiers is about \70,000 million, 130,000 a month for each of them. However, under the voluntary military system, the country “hires” 350 thousand militants who would receive higher labor cost compared to those who are conscripted by the government. According to a researcher of the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, \700,000 million of enormous finance should additionally be spent on labor costs under the volunteer military system. Moreover, most countries that have a small, but strong military put its foundation on technology, representatively the United States where it spends millions of money for the sole development of weapons. If our country purchases enough devices that barely maintains the loss that comes from the reduced number of soldiers, extra budgets of at least ￦300,000 million are necessary.
Even though the government has enough money to pay off for all the sunk costs, still, there is doubt if it could recruit the appropriate number of soldiers needed for the country’s defense. Recent violence in the military has aggravated the position military stands in the minds of Korean youths. Thus, most of them will try to go for other jobs, accelerated by the predominant social recognition that treats white-collar jobs as being successful. The transitioned military force thus lack the representative nature as a national army, and it will contradict with the expected result the transitioned system would bring - an army that is advanced in quality. The reason that the public is enraged by military violence is because currently all men between the age 18 to 32 are conscripted, and it could possibly be their families, friends, or relatives. However, if the system is transitioned and less people are concerned with the issue, problems that arise in the military, such as violence in the military could remain neither revealed nor fixed.
Returning to the budget issue, the government should convey \1,000,000 million from other areas in government spending, which in the current case, could be the budget of welfare, owing to its flexible usage compared to other areas. Though a number of people urge for the voluntary system, it might be hard to gain consensus when the system is later revealed to be directly related to their interests. Most importantly, once the system is applied, it could never be held back. In case of Taiwan, the president has announced in 2008 to convert the military system to a voluntary one in 2015. However, due to the lack of budget and number of applicants, the government has postponed it for two years. Some professionals even see that Taiwan could possibly reconvert to their original system.
The Only Solution
Why a volunteer military system should take place
DEATH BY beating. Bullying. Firing guns at random. Such incidents have sprung up multiple times within the Korean military. Every time such incidents have occurred, the military has stated that it will root out these chronic problems. However, all of the plans that have been set forth by the Ministry of Defense, including the 2012 military culture advancement plan, have been futile in preventing such tragedies. During April and June, draftee Yoon lost his life by group assault and Sergeant Yim fired indiscriminately. These repeated tragedies demonstrate the need for a more fundamental change within the military structure: a volunteer military system. Under that system, soldiers would be hired as public servants, and thus paid higher than they are now. Most experts estimate that the size of the military would have to be reduced by about one third to accommodate the increase in wages. Such a change must take place, even though it might bring about huge repercussions in Korea.
Some say that the chronic violence problems of the military are inevitable due to the nature of the military itself, which puts a heavy emphasis on rigid rules and hierarchy. This is because the military is an organization that cannot operate without absolute order, and for that, violence is tolerated to a certain degree. However, there are some people who seem to be slow or unable to adjust to such a system in the military, who are branded as ‘attention soldiers.*’ Such branding of soldiers has been criticized for infringing human rights since it has frequently led to victimization of the ‘attention soldiers,’ as seen in the case of Sergeant Yim. However, under the volunteer military system, the likelihood of a person whose character is not compatible with the military culture becoming a soldier is very low, because people who regard themselves as unable to adjust to the military will not sign up. Thus, there will hardly be any need for the system of ‘attention soldiers’ that brands people in a manner that may actually stigmatize and ultimately harm them. As such, there will be a much lower chance of a bullying incident such as that of draftee Yoon happening again.
Another reason for voluntary recruitment is its efficiency. Nowadays, the number of soldiers involved does not decide the outcome of a war. It is based upon the quality of the soldiers and the weapons they hold. This is proved by the case of the Iraq War, in 2003, where the United States won despite having far fewer numbers of soldiers than Iraqi forces. The key factor that led the United States to victory was weaponry of higher quality and well-trained soldiers. Rather than spending money on training and drafting people who were civilians, the military could instead direct that revenue to modernizing weaponry and providing a longer professional training process for its soldiers. Also, the volunteer military system is efficient in economic terms. Experts estimate that the total opportunity costs of all recruited men amount to at least \3,000,000 million. The opportunity costs include the costs associated with putting all able bodied young men in the military regardless of their respective abilities and strengths that could be otherwise used to develop a variety of social fields and eventually contribute to increasing overall social production and national economic output. Under the volunteer military system, such economic losses will significantly decrease as those who are suited to the military would sign up first and prevent an inefficient allocation of human resources.
The time has come for a change. Sheer numbers will not win a war, and conscription will surely continue to bring about pain for many people. It is time for a more fundamental change. A volunteer military system is not only economically efficient, but also will prevent the bullying cases such as that of Sergeant Yoon from happening again. The military should not be an inescapable place any longer. To achieve this, a volunteer military system is the only solution.