South Korea is seeking to increase its defense budget 8.2 percent on-year in 2019, the largest expansion since 2008, as the country strives to build a slimmer yet smarter military and cope with the uncertain security environment.
The defense ministry said Tuesday it has proposed a budget of 46.7 trillion won (US$42 billion) for next year. The Cabinet is set to review the government spending plan later in the day before submitting it to the National Assembly on Friday.
Of the total, the ministry plans to spend 15.3 trillion won on boosting defense capabilities, which is an increase of 13.7 percent from the previous year, while setting aside 31.3 trillion won for running military forces, an on-year growth of 5.7 percent.
"We have written an expanded budget plan to secure the conditions to push for the Defense Reform 2.0 initiative to build strong military capabilities to effectively respond to any threat in the recent uncertain security environment," the ministry said in a press release.
"The thrust of the Moon Jae-in administration's security strategy is to pursue peace through strength so as to achieve denuclearization and establish peace on the peninsula," it added.
The ministry earmarked 5.78 trillion won for the establishment of the "three-axis" defense system, the centerpiece of efforts to counter threats from North Korea's nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. It represents a 16.4 percent on-year increase.
The system consists of the Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation, an operational plan to incapacitate the North Korean leadership in a major conflict, the Kill Chain pre-emptive strike platform, and the Korea Air and Missile Defense system.
More than 1.58 trillion won was set aside to build capabilities to retake wartime operational control from the United States, such as the South Korean military's communication, reconnaissance and counter-artillery assets.
The ministry also seeks to spend 4.65 trillion won to reinforce capabilities for the military's command and control, and maneuverability so as to help execute the plan to reduce the number of active-duty troops to 500,000 by 2022 from the current 618,000.
As for research and development on cutting-edge defense technologies, such as robotics and drones, the ministry allotted 3.14 trillion won. For supporting the defense industry, 46.5 billion won was earmarked.
The budget proposal also includes 12.2 billion won to add 86 additional personnel for the excavation of war remains in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas, and 3.3 billion won for removing DMZ land mines and purchasing equipment for the removal, and 1.7 trillion won for other related costs.
The excavation of the remains of troops killed during the 1950-53 Korean War is part of efforts to enforce the April inter-Korean summit agreement to transform the buffer zone into a "peace zone."
According to this year's military expenditure report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, South Korea ranked 10th with its 2017 defense spending of $39.2 billion. The U.S topped the list with $610 billion, followed by China with $228 billion, Saudi Arabia with $69.4 billion, Russia with $66.3 billion, India with $63.9 billion and France with $57.8 billion. (yonhap)