S. Korea plans massive troop cut
SEOUL — Amid continuing negotiations over a U.S. proposal to remove 12,500 troops from South Korea, the South Korean Ministry of National Defense confirmed its own plans to reduce its active-duty force by 50,000 troops between now and 2008.
“We plan on reducing the overall Republic of Korea military forces by approximately 10,000 troops per year,” MND spokesman Brig. Gen. Nam Dae-yun said Wednesday.
“We expect the security factors on the peninsula to change in the coming years and in order to adapt to those changes, we need the most efficient military forces. Therefore, we are cutting all unnecessary troops and will focus on strengthening our mission-essential troops,” Nam said.
Nam declined to elaborate on what changing security factors the military anticipates.
Officials also declined to detail what forces would be cut but said the cuts likely would not directly affect inter-activity with U.S. forces.
South Korea has an active-duty force of about 700,000 troops, compared to a North Korean military estimated at more than a million. But just as American officials point to high-tech weapons capability, South Korean officials have said combat capabilities more than compensate for any difference in numbers.
The reductions would be the first since the 1980s, Yoon Kwang-ung, new South Korean defense minister, told the National Assembly.
“Increasing or reducing the number of troops must be decided based on a careful assessment of the two Koreas’ military postures. We are preparing a plan to cut troops by restructuring units while keeping the combat strength,” he said.
Yoon said that of the 10,000 troops reduced this year, 6,000 will be from the Republic of Korea Army and 2,000 each will come from the Navy and Air Force.
In June, U.S. and South Korean officials made public a U.S. proposal to remove almost one-third of the U.S. troops in South Korea by 2005. South Korean officials have asked the reduction be delayed by at least one year; several rounds of negotiations concerning the proposal have been scheduled for this autumn.
The reduction would include the 3,600 soldiers from the 2nd Infantry Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team who are deployed to Iraq.
Officials from both sides repeatedly have said reductions would not affect their joint defense ability.
“As the combat commander here in Korea, I am very confident in the decisions we’ve made and in the fact that we’ve not created a security vacuum — that capabilities rather than a numerical number is what’s important,” U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. Leon LaPorte told reporters last week, listing some of the $11 billion in high-tech upgrades to be made over the next three years.