| The gist of the defense reform plan for 2014-2030 announced Thursday by South Korea`s National Defense Ministry is putting frontline corps, rather than commands, at the center of the military operation system and shifting the military strategic concept from active deterrence to proactive deterrence. The plan would allow the military to wage war in more swift and effective ways by compressing the chain of command and includes stern retaliation in the event of North Korea`s provocation and pre-emptive response aimed at preventing an full-fledged war.
The North`s provocations are unpredictable, as were the cases with the torpedo attack on the South Korean naval vessel Cheonan and shelling of frontline Yeonpyeong Island. North Korea`s new 300-millimeter rocket launchers are capable of loading various types of shells and firing large amounts of rockets. They have a maximum range of 200 kilometers, wide enough to include the South`s Chungcheong areas. It is important to respond promptly and effectively in the event of the North`s provocation. Also important is to deter provocation. There is no doubt that the military`s functions and concepts should change in accordance with changes in the security environment.
The Defense Ministry said that the defense reform plan is aimed at preparing for the era of reunification in a long term as well as strengthening the South`s defense capabilities against potential threats. However, the plan would not suffice given the latest security environment in Northeast Asia. China earmarked 8,082 yuan (132.4 billion U.S. dollars) in defense budget for this year, a 12.2-percent increase from 2013. Since Chinese President Xi Jinping took power, Beijing is relentless in building up its military. Japan has also unusually increased its defense budget, which amounts to nearly 4.9 trillion yen (48 billion dollars) this year. Japan is also seeking to secure its collective self-defensive right. The United States also plans to reinforce its naval forces in the Asia-Pacific region from the current 50 percent of the entire U.S. military to 60 percent by 2020. Around the Northeast Asia, there is a fierce arms race among the U.S., Japan and China.
South Korea`s defense budget amounts to a mere one-fifth of that of China and half of that of Japan. Implementing the defense reform plan requires a 7.8 percent-increase in defense budget annually. However, the country`s defense budget was increased just by 3.5 percent. Can the country properly deter North Korea and cope with the rapidly changing regional security situation? Seoul should expand its security concept from a mid- to long-term perspective and, at the same time, draw up a strategy to support the concept and provide sufficient funding. Besides military measures, it is also very important to further solidify the Seoul-Washington alliance and nurture diplomatic capabilities for coping with crisis situations.