ROK Drop

Avatar of GI KoreaBy on December 27th, 2008 at 2:42 am

Alternative Military Service Debated in Korea

It looks like conscientious objectors in Korea will not be able to do alternative service and continue to be sent to prison instead:

ROK Army soldier patrols the DMZ.

ROK Army soldier patrols the DMZ.

South Korea’s military indicated on Wednesday it would hold off on a plan for alternative service for conscientious objectors to the armed forces who are now jailed if they refuse conscription.

Military service of about two years is mandatory for all able-bodied South Korean men in order to field a fighting force strong enough to prevent North Korea’s 1.2 million-strong army from attacking. The United States stations about 28,000 troops in the South to support its military.

South Korea’ Defense Ministry released a survey on Wednesday saying that nearly 70 percent of the public was opposed to allowing alternative service. It has said the poll results would weigh heavily on its policy decision.

“We can understand it is still too early to allow alternative forms of military service for conscientious objectors,” spokesman Won Tae-jae told a news briefing. The ministry had not yet made a final decision, he added.

The Defense Ministry has floated the idea over the past few years of allowing conscientious objectors to perform community service or a non-combat military related jobs.

But conservative and veterans groups have objected, saying it would encourage draft dodging and weaken the country’s ability to deter North Korea, which on Tuesday repeated a threat to reduce the South to ashes.

About 300,000 men are conscripted each year into the South’s military or riot police. But around 750 men annually refuse to join on moral grounds, often because they are pacifists.

They typically receive prison sentences of about two years. Criminal records make it difficult for objectors to find good jobs and the issue of army service is often raised by potential employers during job interviews.  [Reuters]

Service in the Korean Army can start at the age of 19 but can join later due to college or family reasons.  If conscientious objector were allowed alternative service then I think there would be a huge jump in the number of people claming this status. The number of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Korea would probably go through the roof.

However, I think the bigger picture being missed here which is does Korea still need the mandatory service requirement in the first place?  South Korea is a wealthy and modern country that is for all intents and purposes using slave labor to man their military force.

  • Unsatisfied LG DACOM
    10:21 pm on December 26th, 2008 1

    GI Korea, you seem to be a little off on things lately. Fine, no more mandatory military service. As you point out, Korea is an economically developed country. Oh, that means that modern forms of employment are widely available. Oh, that means that no one will join the military.

  • tom sheepandgoats
    11:28 pm on December 26th, 2008 2

    Alas, that's too bad from my (a JW) point of view. The Awake magazine of December 2008 interviewed the first South Korean Witness to be imprisoned for his nuetral stand. (in 1953) He expressed cautious optimism the policy might change soon. I blogged about it, and the similar situation that once existed in the U.S.

    South Korea is essentially the only major free country that still takes the stand it does.

  • PBAR
    1:19 am on December 27th, 2008 3

    I agree, with no mandatory military service, they wouldn't get anyone to join except for enticing some people with the promise of a free military academy education. The quality of life in the ROK military is pretty low (even for officers) and I was aghast at some of the things my ROKAF classmates have told me when I was an exchange student. For example, when they move, they have to pay for most of the cost of moving their household goods. The only benefit to being in the ROK military is the stability it offers vice all of the layoffs in the civilian sector. The retention rate, at least in the ROKAF, is very low. A ROKAF friend of mine told me the year group two of ahead of him had only 15 of 80 fighter pilots decide to stay pass their initial commitment.

  • Avatar of GI KoreaGI Korea
    1:42 am on December 27th, 2008 4

    Many of the ROK soldiers live in very poor conditions for very little pay though conditions over the last decade have improved a little. If the Korean government improved the pay, benefits, and living conditions of their volunteer servicemembers then more people would want to volunteer to join the military. Just offering a Korean version of the GI Bill would get many more people to join.

    Changing from a conscript to an all volunteer force is not something that can be done over night but incrementally to increase the number of all volunteer units and work towards reducing the number of conscripts.

    The only thing stopping this from happening is money which people in the Korean government rather spend for other things like paying off North Korea then paying a ROK soldier the salary he/she deserves.

  • tokyojesusfist
    2:48 am on December 27th, 2008 5

    I don't have sympathy for conscientious objectors, whether they're crazy anarchists or superhippies. Allowing something bad to happen (like an invasion) by doing nothing to stop it is selfish and morally bankrupt.

  • capt america
    4:33 am on December 27th, 2008 6

    Conscription is a right of passage in Korea, and justifiably so. Koreans don’t realize it but military conscription is one of the major components to the success of Korea over the last 15-20 years, and one of the most honorable aspects of Korean society. There can also be strong argument made that Korean work ethic is heavily derived from the military work ethic, and ending the mandatory military obligation that all healthy body Korean males have would have a damaging effect on Korea as whole.

    On the other hand, an all volunteer military force is always the optimal way to defend a nation, and the only way to successfully make it a viable career option is to make economically implacable. G.I is right when he says the Korea maintains a military force with a virtual slave labor system of sorts is so true.

    If Korea used the money it spends on aid to the north, and on paying for KS civilians on U.S bases it could definitely start the upgrade to a modern on volunteer force in very short time. It already has a model (THE U.S Military).

  • Tom
    7:18 am on December 27th, 2008 7

    You think soldiers should live in country club environments like the American servicemen?

  • tom sheepandgoats
    8:47 am on December 27th, 2008 8

    From original post: "But around 750 men annually refuse to join on moral grounds, often because they are pacifists." Isn't it true that about 600 of those are Jehovah's Witnesses?

    "The number of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Korea would probably go through the roof."

    I don't think so. It hasn't happened in other countries. Perhaps a slight rise, no more.

    People contribute in different ways. Not everyone would become a policeman, doctor, or roadbuilder, yet no one holds it against them. Jehovah's Witnesses (600 of the annual 750) have a reputation for industriousness, discipline, honesty, responsibility toward family. In the U.S. they contribute equally (probably more so, since they don't evade taxes) toward police enforcement and social services protection, yet as a group draw upon these services far less.

    Moreover (at least in the U.S. military) only a minority of those serving actually see combat. The rest end up in various support roles. So I'm not sure what is so objectionable about setting up alternative service for those whose consciences steer them away from the military.

    Most groups, whether religious, agnostic, or atheist, do not have internal principles that would prevent them from engaging in aggression. Jehovah's Witnesses do. Perhaps it's only right to excuse them from conflict to which they would never have contributed.

    I do agree with Captain America when he speaks of military-acquired discipline spilling over into the secular world afterwards with good effect. It's been true for many Americans who have served their country through the military (though not all). But like him, I agree that there are better alternatives.

  • Baltimoron
    4:42 pm on December 27th, 2008 9

    Technical arguments about implementing professionalism aside, as in the US, it would take a series of major disasters for Seoul to accelerate military reform. Or, the US would have to invest major diplomatic capital to change Seoul's mind, as occurred in Indonesia and South America. The first case is unthinkable. The second option is impossible, since the US just doesn't have that kind of pull anymore.

  • Bob Walsh
    12:03 am on December 28th, 2008 10

    Plenty of other developed nations have conscript armies. Switzerland and Israel being good examples. Conscript armies have an advantage in that they do not have to lower standards and take whoever walks in the door, which seems to be what we are doing right now.

    Conscription as a rite of passage, and part of the price of full citizenship is not a bad thing. It allows a government to better manage its military budget, and creates a large pool of qualified reservists.

    But Korea already seems to have several routes for people to go who want to avoid military service, or do some form of alternative service. I'm running into lots of Koreans in my field (biotech) who seemed to have been part of some other national high-tech program that allowed them an 'out'.


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