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Defense policy: Reinforcing the defense system

Defense Policy: Reinforcing the Defense System

Early Phase of National Defense in Korea
 
1. Historical Background and the State of National Defense Posture
 
(1) Historical Background
The early phase of national defense in Korea, that is, when the concept gained an established and systematic form, lasted for about a quarter century between 1948 and 1972. It was during this phase that the institutional and systemic grounds for national defense began to be developed. The period also roughly encompasses the rise and fall of the first three Republics in Korea, the outbreak of the Korean War (which lasted for three years between 1950 and 1953), and the deployment of Korean troops to the Vietnam War in the 1960s.


The end of World War II accompanied the onset of the Cold War, which divided the world between the communist and liberal-democratic camps, each centered on the Soviet Union and the United States, respectively. In Northeast Asia, the rivalry pitted the Northern Triangle (i.e., the Soviet Union, China, and North Korea) against the Southern Triangle (i.e., South Korea, the United States, and Japan).


The United States had been actively involved in the affairs of the Korean peninsula—especially in the southern half—from the end of Japan’s colonial rule onwards, setting up the United States Army Military Government (USAMGIK), sending American and UN soldiers to the Korean War, and providing military and economic aid. Through these processes, the United States emerged as South Korea’s largest and most reliable ally, and played the role of patron in the development of all aspects of national defense in Korea, including military buildup, defense management, military training, and others. Beginning from the release of the Nixon Doctrine in 1969, however, the number of US troops stationed in Korea has continued to drop.


South Korea was one of the poorest countries in the world in the immediate aftermath of the Korean War, but began to join the ranks of middle-income developing countries circa the 1970s. During this early phase of national defense development, progress toward democracy began to be made, slowly but unmistakably, through such political vicissitudes as the years of the First Republic under President Rhee Syngman, the April 19 Revolution, the rise and abrupt fall of the Second Republic under Prime Minister Jang Myeon, and the military coup d’état and rise of a military government under President Park Chunghee that led to the Third Republic. After a brief spell of political stability in the Third Republic, however, Korean politics became embroiled in another round of turmoil amid controversies over constitutional amendments made to prolong President Park’s strongman rule. Rapid social change and explosive population growth began after the Korean War, with the spread of public education and the media adding to the zeal for social development. The economic development plan of the Third Republic also bred fast economic development and urbanization.


The archenemy of South Korea during this period was undoubtedly North Korea, commonly referred to at that time as the “North Korean puppet regime”—a puppet, that is, of the Soviet Union. The Korean peninsula was divided into two shortly after Korea’s liberation from Japan. The Korean War broke out with North Korea’s invasion of the South on June 25, 1950, and lasted until the ceasefire and armistice agreement on July 17, 1953. Countless lives were lost during the war and immeasurable damage incurred. North Korea continued to dispatch spies into South Korea, and the tension between the two Koreas escalated to a new height when armed communist guerillas attempted to attack the Blue House in 1968.


The Ministry of National Defense (MND) enacted the Act on the Organization of the National Armed Forces (AONAF) in 1948, immediately after the Korean government was set up, and solidified the basis for the national defense policy by enacting the Military Service Act (MSA) and other such statutes. The Military Personnel Act (MPA) of 1962 and the Homeland Reserve Forces Act (HRFA) of 1968 further strengthened the institutional basis for national defense, along with the burgeoning military academies.
 
(2) National Defense Posture
The South Korean army was badly equipped to carry out the Korean War on its own throughout the war’s entire duration. North Koreans invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950, with the aim of reuniting the two Koreas through the violent communization of the South. American and UN troops began to arrive on June 30 to fight on behalf of South Korea and drive North Korea beyond the 38th Parallel. The two countries have been in a state of ceasefire since 1953.


At the time of the war, the South Korean military was neither comparable in size to its northern counterpart, nor did it possess the same level of competence.[1] It lagged behind its rival in terms of both troop capability and weapons systems, and had to rely on the United States and the United Nations for contributions. Despite the “northward unification policy” championed by politicians in the aftermath of the Korean War, South Korea struggled for years to reinforce its military to a substantial extent. North Korea, on the other hand, set on a course of ambitious military buildup in 1962, spending as much as 24 percent of its gross national product (GNP) on military spending, and 48 percent of its military budget on reinforcing combat capacity.
By late 1971, however, the South Korean military began to surpass its rival, at least on the surface, with 623,316 troops to the North’s 467,700 troops. Nevertheless, North Korea continued to make significant progress in its efforts to build up its Air Force.[2]


North Korea continued to issue threats against the South and build up its military even after signing the Armistice Agreement. The North dispatched spies regularly to incite fear in South Korean society, and even attempted to attack the Blue House with a special unit of armed communist guerillas on January 21, 1968; it also infiltrated Samcheok with armed guerillas in November 1968. These acts of aggression clearly revealed the North’s ambition to reunite the Korean peninsula by communizing the South.


In the meantime, South Korea continued its military training after the Korean War ended. The Foal Eagle (FE) Exercise, in particular, has been organized every October since 1961 to train members of nonconventional war units.


South Korea began to dispatch noncombat troops to the Vietnam War in 1964, and combat troops in 1965, including medics, the taekwondo instructor group, the Maengho Unit, the Cheongnyong Unit, the Baekma Unit, and the Shipjaseong Unit. A total of 46,170 Korean troops were deployed to Vietnam until the end of 1971, and were withdrawn in 1972.

 
[1]During this period, South Korea possessed 105,752 troops to North Korea’s 198,350. South Korea’s arsenal included 1,048 cannons, 28 naval ships, and 22 aircraft to North Korea’s 2,280 cannons, 30 naval ships, 210 aircraft, 242 tanks, and 54 armored vehicles.
[2]By the end of 1971, South Korea had 548,258 ground troops, 18,892 naval troops, 29,602 marines, and 26,564 air troops to North Korea’s409,100 ground troops, 13,585 naval troops, and 45,000 air troops. There were 2,336,032 South Korean local reservists to the North’s 1,420,000. The main South Korean arsenal included 784 tanks, 1,850 field artillery guns, 322 naval ships, and 354 fighters to North Korea’s737 tanks, 2,725 artillery field guns, 293 naval ships, and 727 fighters (MND, History of National Defense (May 1961 to December 1971), 1990, 384-385).


Source: Korea Institute of Public Administration. 2008. Korean Public Administration, 1948-2008, Edited by Korea Institute of Public Administration. Pajubookcity: Bobmunsa.