July 6, 2023
SEOUL – The head of South Korea’s Military Manpower Agency on Wednesday said he opposes the idea of expanding military conscription to female citizens and extending the mandatory military service period for eligible male citizens as potential solutions to address manpower shortages within the military.
“It seems impractical to extend the shortened period of military service. In my opinion, it’s impossible,” said Lee Ki-sik, the commissioner of the Military Manpower Administration, during a press conference held in Seoul.
In 2003, the military service period was reduced from 26 to 24 months as a measure to alleviate the burden of conscription. Since 2018, there has been a further reduction, with the service period now standing at 18 months.
Lee also emphasized that it is “premature to push for female conscription” and expressed concerns about initiating a discussion on the issue. He explained that having such a discussion “at a time when the population is declining could only fuel social conflict” between men and women.
In South Korea, all able-bodied male citizens are required by law to serve in the military for at least 18 months between ages 18 and 35. Female citizens are exempt from mandatory conscription.
Lee assessed that the initial phase of the decline in military human resources has already been completed and that the current level of military manpower will be sustained until the mid-2030s.
During the period, the South Korean military should rather prioritize enhancing automation levels as a means to address the impending demographic challenges.
Speaking at the news conference, Lee also said that the office aims to decrease the number of exemptions from military conscription and alternative service systems.
There is currently an exemption and alternative service system in place for athletes and artists who have been recognized for promoting national prestige through achievements such as winning designated international awards or national contests.
When asked about granting military exemptions to BTS, Lee emphasized the importance of fairness and stated that the BTS members should fulfill their military services.
“There is indeed a debate regarding whether BTS members should be exempt from military service based on national interest,” Lee said. “However, my view is that the principle of fairness should be given priority over national interest when it comes to fulfilling the obligation of military service.”
Lee emphasized that allowing BTS members to evade military duty would set a negative precedent.
“I believe that BTS should fulfill their military duty,” Lee said. “This is not merely my personal opinion but rather a reflection of the existing regulations outlined in the Military Service Act.”