Updated June. 24, 2014 02:58
The tragic shooting rampage that happened at an outpost under the Army 22nd Infantry Division is linked with structural problems facing the South Korean military. Lim has been arrested alive after a suicide attempt by shooting the rifle at his own chest. He had been a listed solider of Grade A that is subject to special management in a personality survey, but he was deployed to the frontline General Outpost (GOP) after his grade adjustment to Grade B in November last year.
At the 22nd Infantry Division alone, where the incident happened, as many as 1,800 soldiers are on the list subject to special watch. The number of people who join the military is incrementally deceasing due to low birthrate, while the number of listed soldiers is increasing. In order for South Korea to maintain the level of its troops at 630,000-strong level, it should have at least 450,000 soldiers on compulsory military duty, but the number of people who will join the military is projected at 210,000 to 220,000 in 2020. It is a matter of serious concern for national security.
At every elections, politicians race to make populist election pledges to garner vote from younger voters aged 19 or above. There were attempts to reduce the duration of compulsory military service for conscripted soldiers from 24 months to 18 months, but the Lee Myung-bak administration fixed it at 21 months. Even at the last presidential election, candidates of the ruling and main opposition parties made pledges to cut the duration of military service to 18 months. The military authority should accurately calculate demand for soldiers in order to prevent politicians` request for the curtailment of the period.
The deployment of shifts that completely depend on soldiers also entails structural problems as well. The 22nd Infantry Division where the incident happened covers the most extensive geographical scope for surveillance and defense, as it is in charge of both inland areas around the military demarcation line and coastal areas. Barbed wire fence for surveillance extends more than 1 kilometer and it is very difficult for 40 members of an outpost to guard the range around the clock. The number of troops at the 1st Army Headquarters overseeing the eastern borders with North Korea has declined by nearly 10,000 over the past several years. Increased workload amid rising threat of the Norths provocations is considered a factor of the tragic accident.
The military is conducting a project to make defense scientific, which calls for equipping devices to detect cuttings of barbed wire fence and closed circuit TVs to maintain surveillance of the enemy. However, the timeline for completion of this project will reportedly be delayed by at least two years from the original schedule of year-end. The completion of this project should be advanced as much as possible so as to take advantage of South Koreas strength as IT powerhouse. The military must establish a high-tech defense system by increasing budget and strengthening public-private sector cooperation, which can help offset troop reduction.
Even when admitting the lack of troops, however, there cannot be any excuse for the militarys act of heavily arming a soldier who needs special attention, and deploying him at a frontline outpost. A member of a bereaved family from the incident reportedly said, A month ago my brother said that he had a strange senior solider in the unit, lamenting, Everyone in the unit would have known it. The military authorities should use this incident as a turning point to fundamentally reform its troop management system.