The Dong-A Ilbo has a powerful editorial today about the obstacles to military reform. Here it is in full:
Defense ministry remains reluctant to reform itself despite crisis
The Ministry of National Defense's proposal on reforming the military barracks culture reported Thursday to a special committee on military human rights and reform raises questions as to whether the ministry is really determined to straighten up the military, which is in a total crisis in the wake of a series of human rights abuses on base. The reform committee, of which Defense Minister Han Min-koo is a co-chairman, proposed harsher punishments on human rights violations including battery and cruel treatment of subordinates. However, the proposal, in effect, excluded measures to break the military's chronic practice of secrecy and exclusivism. It is natural that lawmakers from both the ruling and opposition parties criticized the defense minister and called for more innovative measures.
When the military was in crisis over an Army sergeant's shooting rampage and a death by beating case involving another Army private, Defense Minister Han made a public apology on August 4 and promised to take measures to reform the barracks culture to regain public trust in the military. Two days later, the Defense Ministry launched a civilian-government-military reform committee. However, 60 of 135 committee members were military, making the panel unable to push for any reform that the military is opposed to.
It took three months for the public to grasp the fact that an Army private was beaten to death by his superiors. The entire nation was angered by the military's yet another attempt to cover up human rights abuses on base. A subcommittee of the reform panel proposed to overhaul the military justice system and introduce an ombudsman system, only to face objection by the Defense Ministry. It turned out that the Army sergeant who went on a killing spree at the Army's 22nd Division had been on a "watch" list for his psychological and behavioral conditions, making it urgent to reform the way the military deals with such troops who needed attention. However, the reform committee's proposals lacked substantial measures. It also called for renaming the care system and revising the classification system.
The crisis is not just a matter of rank-and-file soldiers. Even after the launch of the reform committee, a number of scandals and criminal cases were revealed, involving military officers' sexual harassments of female officers and drinking problems. Song Young-keun, a lawmaker of the ruling Saenuri Party and a former commander of the Defense Security Command, said, "The most important thing is to straighten the character of military generals." More recently, a former Army private who woke up from 19 months of coma claimed that he had been beaten by other soldiers, prompting the military to launch a reinvestigation of the case. The military's current crisis has gone over the point where its reform can be left to the hands of the Defense Ministry that is unable to break away from its shoddy and irresponsible behavior.This does not seem like a sustainable situation in a functioning democracy. One is tempted to recommend that the South Korean military "get with it" so it does not find itself faced with potentially unwise reforms that are imposed from without.