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Pushing for 'Defense Reform 2.0' to support the responsible defense of peace and prosperity


May 10 marks the first anniversary of President Moon Jae-in's inauguration. Since its inauguration, the new government has been proceeding with reforms in every aspect of society, and Korea has been experiencing a wide range of changes as a result. Over the next two days, the Korea Defense Daily will look at the performance of the new government in the last year in the areas of national defense, security and unification.

The area in which the Moon Jae-in administration has achieved the most tangible results over the last year is strong defense reform. This government's goal for defense reform is quite clear, which is to reorganize the military as an elite force using cutting-edge technology and civil manpower. For this, Minister of National Defense Song Young-moo is strongly pushing the reform plan of 'Defense Reform 2.0.' The aims are to realize a 'win the fight army,' a 'responsible army' and an 'army the people can trust'. 'Performance Data for Moon Jae-in Administration's 1st Year' published by Cheongwadae prescribes the goal of defense reform as ensuring a 'strong military responsible for a Korea of peace and prosperity' and suggests 4 innovations - force structure, defense management, military culture and defense business as its measures.

Personnel operating system improvement connected to force structure reorganization

The force structure reorganization and defense personnel operation system improvement have been proceeding smoothly. The civilian oversight system of the MND, which Minister Song stresses as particularly important, is changing particular quickly. The MND strengthened the civilian oversight system by appointing public servants to chief positions last year, instead of former military officers. In the past, 4 out of 5 chief positions were held by former army generals. Also, the MND appointed its first female spokesperson at the end of last year. More recently, it appointed a civil public servant who passed the Highest Civil Service Examination as a Director General for Policy Planning, one of the key chief-level positions in the MND. The Director General for Policy Planning has appointed major general-level active general. In this context, Minister Song has declared his intent of strengthening civilian oversight several times, saying that civilians who can understand the perspective of the general public and have experience in various social spheres will take charge of defense.


Significant pay raise for soldiers, major improvement in welfare and service conditions

End of unreasonable practices and irrationality within the military

The government is trying to create a wish-to-go and trust-to-send military culture by ending unreasonable practices and irrationality within the military, enhancing the protection of human rights for military personnel and improving compensation and service conditions for those who serve in the military.

Most of all, it is considered that the government has increased the financial independence of soldiers while in service by sharply increasing the pay this year. Sergeants' salaries saw an increase from 216,000 won to 405,700 won over last year, an 88% rise. The MND plans to increase the salary up to 670,000 won (for sergeants) by 2022, 50% of minimum wages in 2017.

Together with this pay raise, the MND increased the monthly saving limit of Hope installment savings for military personnel from 200,000 won to 400,000 won. This is based on research that showed the required expenses for military life are 266,000 won as of 2018, giving soldiers 139,000 won as 'spare money' due to the pay raise. If the salary increases to 670,000 won by 2022, this will mean 370,000 won in extra money. This means that a solider who saves frugally can have 8 million won waiting for him upon his discharge. Explaining the goal of the pay raise, a government spokesperson said, "Soldiers can now lead their own military life without external support, save a large sum of money to start their life after discharge and lighten the burden on family finances of having a son in service."

Simplification of army events towards units that are focused on combat

The MND has drastically cut back and ended events that mobilize soldiers, and created conditions that enable our military to concentrate fully on their proper combat duty. It decided to simplify or reduce all military-related events by around 38% after reviews by each service at the level of defense reform. In addition, each service is introducing the 'prior approval system' when hosting an event. A general-level or higher commanding officer considers the number of personnel and equipment allocation to determine whether to conduct an event and decide its scale. Any events lasting at least five days should have approval from the chief of staff of each service. However, government events, and major national events and events that contribute to defense technology exports have been preserved under the existing system to enhance Korea's national image.

The MND officially decided to abolish the official residence managing personnel system last year to completely cut the private use of soldiers. The MND purged the organization of 198 personnel as of September 30 last year. In addition, 113 soldiers who are in service saw their assignment converted to combat in the course of this month. Official residence facilities and equipment management are going to be supported by headquarters troops.


Providing a tasty and nutritious menu by raising meal cost

There has been a significant investment in the military menu to improve taste and quality. Basic meal cost is now set as 7,855 won, up 374 won from the 7,481 won cost last year. This is approximately 35% higher than the basic meal cost in 2011, which was 5,820 won. Significantly, all agricultural products supplied to the military have been replaced with domestic products. Since last year, the standard amount of rice has been reduced from 400 g to 360 g, and side dish improvement has been prioritized instead. Moreover, items the soldiers prefer have been increased in quantity for this year's meal service, while ones the soldiers do not prefer have been reduced. The standard amount of health promoting ingredients such as Korean beef, ribs, pork, abalone, etc. has been increased as well. Korean beef servings have been increased from 21 g to 23 g per day per capita, ribs from 2 to 3 times per year, pork from 69 g to 72 g per day per capita and abalone from 25 g to 30 g (5 times per year). Starting this year, 27 diverse items will be added - fruits including Hanrabong, Kyoho grape, clean apple, etc., deep-fried squid, sliced abalone, freshwater eel and octopus, as well as processed foods including fried chicken cutlets, deep-fried shrimp in spicy sauce, tender sticks, etc. This is an extreme change compared to the years from 2014 to 2017, in which just 3 to 7 items were added each year. As well, the demonstration meal service innovation project that was well received last year has been continued. Significantly, starting this year, brunch, multiple menus and self menu organization are being extended and enforced according to each unit's conditions.


Increase in female soldiers and guaranteed working conditions

The MND has laid the quantitative and qualitative foundation for the service of female soldiers. To utilize our outstanding female personnel, the MND improved the military personnel management system by increasing the number of female personnel and number of advancements of female personnel in each class, as well as removing positions which imposed limits on female soldiers. Also, the MND decided to increase the female quota from 5.9% last year to 8.8% until 2022 in order to procure excellent female personnel. Accordingly, the number of new female personnel has been increased by 1,500 this year and 2,200 in 2022. In January 2018, the regulation that restricts the appointment of female soldiers to beachhead and riverside units has been abolished to remove any discriminatory elements.

There are continuing efforts to lighten the childcare burden for female soldiers. The MND has set the goal of increasing the number of military daycare centers from 125 to 133 this year, and is planning to increase the number of communal childcare centers from 22 last year to 26 this year. In addition, the working conditions have been improved to spread a family-friendly organizational culture by expanding nursing time from female soldiers to all officials. Also, the exemption period for female soldiers who give birth has been increased from 6 months to 1 year after childbirth.

Military judicial reform including abolition of military guardhouse system

Military judicial reform is also being accelerated. The MND is pushing military judicial reform to secure fair jurisdiction and guarantee human rights for soldiers, as well as to gain the people's trust. A division class military commission was already abolished in July of last year, and the confirmation procedure in which a jurisdictive officer can mitigate the final trial result has also been limited. For better human rights and a fair jurisdiction guarantee for soldiers, complete abolition of the confirmation procedure of jurisdictive officer and judge system will be carried out in the long term. The judge system is a system in which a general officer participates in a trial as a judge of the military commission with a military judge, and has been pointed out as a classic example of things that cause mistrust among the public.

To build a fair judicial system, the appellate military court will be abolished. First trial military commissions will be permanently established and unified in order to secure the independence of the military commission. These first trial military commissions will be installed and operated as a military commission in 5 areas. Side by side with our efforts to expand human rights, the military guardhouse system, which has long been a source of disputes, will be abolished. Regulations related to this passed the National Defense Committee in September of last year and are now pending at the National Assembly. A spokesperson for the MND said, "The military guardhouse system is an effective means of strict army discipline and smooth, quick mission operations, but has caused human rights abuses. We will, instead, establish new disciplinary actions such as military discipline training, salary reductions and other means."


Korean war veterans and military honor allowances increased

Treatment for meritorious persons has been greatly improved. This change reflects a growing awareness that most men of merit are not receiving enough respectful treatment and support, and often are barely making a living despite their sacrifices for their country. First of all, the Korean war veterans allowance was increased from 220,000 won to 300,000, and monthly military honor allowance from 280,000 300,000 won to 360,000 380,000 won. The MND decided to add new support for life aid for their (grand)sons and daughters who have difficult lives. Accordingly, those with an income 50% the standard median income or below will receive 468,000 won, while those at 70% the standard median income or below will receive 335,000 won. As well, the reduction rate of medical expenses at the Korea Veterans hospital and the local consigned hospitals has been increased, from 60% to 90%.

Right to health care for local war veterans will be greatly increased. With opening of the Incheon War Veterans Hospital in August, rights to health care for 250,000 war veterans in Incheon, Gyeonggi and Western areas have been enhanced. In addition to this move, the government is planning to establish a war veterans sanatorium in Gangwon (to be opened in 2020) and Jeonbuk (to be opened in 2021) area, with the goal of achieving a sound regional balance of services. As well, specialized rehabilitation centers of local war veterans hospitals will be established in Gwangju, Busan, Daejeon and Daegu, a phased process that will continue until 2022.


By Yeong-Sun, Lee < >

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