korea project

Time to move on

An important period in the lives of most Korean young men is their 26 months of mandatory military service. For almost four decades, veterans of military service got extra points on civil service exams and their time spent in the military counted in pay and promotion policies. In this statement, Kim Ki Sun-mi, director of the policy department of Korean Womenís Associations United (KWAU), comments on the controversy surrounding the constitutional courtís ruling in 1999 outlawing the practice.


Six years after the constitutional court decided that the military service incentive system was unconstitutional, restoration of the system is once again being discussed. We have to reconsider every aspect of the issue now, from its origin to a means of resolution if we are to reach a consensus.

First, why does the military service incentive system keep coming up? Those who demand its restoration see it as a measure to reduce the number of draft dodgers and a good way to compensate discharged soldiers. Is that really so? Young people try to escape the obligatory military service because of the violent, oppressive atmosphere of the army and the fact that so-called 'sons of God' - those who got exempted using money or connections of powerful, rich fathers Ė can avoid service. There is also a new general sentiment which makes people think it is worthless to give up three years of their lives in the name of national defense.

Furthermore, the incentive used to be given only when you applied for the civil service examination or after entering a company. Even if the system was designed to put the sons of God at a disadvantage, usually they had more chances and resources to balance out this disadvantage. In short, it was neither a solution to the problem of draft dodgers nor a reasonable compensation for discharged soldiers.

On the other hand, what were the side effects of the system while it was failing to deliver its intended goals? Overall it gravely violated the rights of women and physically challenged people, depriving them of a fair chance in the labor market. According to the constitutional courtís written decision in 1999, only 3.3 percent of those who had passed the level 7 civil servant examination the previous year had not benefited from the veteransí incentive. At the competitive exam where applicants passed or failed with only the slightest of differences in their scores, women and the physically challenged could hardly be successful without the additional points. The system aggravated the situation of those who were already disadvantaged in the labor market, from prejudice and discrimination, without achieving its intended goals.

When the source of a problem is known, a way can be found to fix it. The military draft system turns out to be very ineffective, so much so that even the Ministry of National Defense is considering a volunteer recruitment system for military service. If the time is not yet ripe for this move measures should be taken in the meantime to make the years of military service less of a waste of time, such as reducing the period of service and establishing educational programs for soldiers.

The army itself should change, and shed its old image as a violent, terrifying organization. It also goes without saying that no one should be illegally exempted, which means a just enforcement of the law. There should be other ways to compensate those who served the country, ways that will not encroach on other people's chances for employment, such as more pension or payment. Let us not cling to an old, ineffectual system, but rather and think up something that will really work. It is a shame that we are beating a dead horse while history moves ahead.