Find a Security Clearance Job!


Military Personnel

Classification Total Army Navy Marine
2005 681 548 41 27 65
2014 630 495 41 29 65
(Target Year)
522 387 41 29 65
(Gap bet. 2014)
-108 -108

All able-bodied South Korean men aged 18 and over are required to serve in the military for about 2 years. Under current law, anyone who refuses faces a prison term of up to 3 years. Conscientious objection has long been a hotly debated subject in South Korea.

The Defense Ministry called 06 September 2016 for taking a cautious approach in switching the mandatory conscription system to a voluntary military system in consideration of the countrys security and fiscal conditions. A ministry official said that those calling for the all-volunteer military system claimed that the nations armed forces should be reduced to 300-thousand from the current 620-thousand, but such a move is impossible under the circumstances.

The official said that the government was working to reduce its troops to 522-thousand by 2022 under the basic plan of defense reforms in order to maintain a proper level of combat power. The official added that the government set the figure of 522-thousand considering the countrys birthrate estimates and forecasts on military resources. The remarks come amid a sparked debate on replacing the current mandatory military service with a voluntary system among political heavyweights.

All males, except for a small percentage of individuals considered physically or socially undesirable for military service, could be drafted into the military. The law requires military service for virtually all male citizens. Military service lasts between 24 and 27 months, depending on the branch of service. In 2011, the military service period was reduced to between 21 and 24 months. However, the law does not allow for conscientious objectors, who can receive a maximum three-year prison sentence. Conscientious objectors who are sentenced to more than one year and six months in prison are exempt from further military service and reserve duty obligations and are not subject to further fines or other punishment. Most conscientious objectors are sentenced to one year and six months in prison.

Persons who have completed their military service obligation and subsequently become conscientious objectors are subject to fines for not participating in mandatory reserve duty exercises. Reserve duty obligation lasts for eight years, and there are three reserve duty exercises per year. The fine varies depending on jurisdiction, but typically individuals are fined 200,000 Korean won (KRW) ($166) for the first conviction. Fines are increased by 100,000 KRW ($83) for each subsequent conviction. The law puts a ceiling on the fine at two million KRW ($1,660) per conviction. Courts have the option, instead of levying fines, to sentence habitual offenders to prison terms or suspended prison terms.

In 1990 there were 407,000 males nineteen years of age who were required to register for military service. Approximately 9.2 percent of these young men were rejected for conscription for one of the following reasons: having a physical or mental disability; possessing a criminal record; being an orphan; and being born out of wedlock or having one parent who was not a South Korean citizen. Conscripts were required to have at least an elementary school education; 77 percent of those drafted had at least a high school education.

The Military Manpower Agency was responsible for assigning recruits to the army, navy, marines, the Korean Augmentation of the United States Army (KATUSA), and the combat police units of the Korean National Police. Recruits could request assignment to a particular service and were assigned based on their education, technical skills, and physical condition. About 85 percent of eligible recruits were drafted for periods of between thirty and thirty-six months. Candidates for the KATUSA program were required to be high school graduates with some English-language training. In 1990 approximately 5,000 men in KATUSA served with the United States Army units in South Korea. In 1990 the air force was an all-volunteer force.

The conscription system was flexible and allowed most young men to plan their service in a way that would promote their individual career goals. High school graduates who had been accepted into a college or technical school or who were attending such schools were granted deferments. Conscripts with good education records and aptitudes suited to particular military specialties were selected to be trained as specialists in combat support branches such as signals, ordnance, and engineers. Even conscripts assigned to combat, however, were encouraged to take classes during their terms of duty to prepare for employment when they left the service.

The army, navy, and air force each had a full range of recruit training centers, schools for technical military occupational specialties, and officer training courses. Army recruits were transported from provincial induction centers to one of the Second Army's recruit training centers for basic training. Each branch of the army had one or more schools that offered curricula for enlisted personnel, NCOs, and officers. The large number of schools and the diversified training programs available to servicemen supported the army's need for skilled personnel to use, maintain, repair, and resupply combat forces during wartime. The air force had schools for pilots, air technicians, communication and electronics specialists, aircraft maintenance specialists, and air traffic controllers. The navy had its own schools oriented to the needs of the three fleets and the marine corps.

All officers and enlisted personnel were closely supervised and had to obey strict security regulations that limited their contacts with civilians, including their own families. All military personnel were provided with food, clothing, housing, and medical services. A variety of entertainment and recreational programs were organized on military installations to reduce boredom and promote the physical health and morale of service personnel.

For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are concerns that bullying and violence comes along with that tradition. In July 2011, a marine corporal shot and killed four of his comrades, later saying that he had been bullied. The summer of 2014 saw at least 4 conscript suicides that may have been tied to hazing. In June, a sergeant went on a deadly shooting spree, reportedly as revenge for repeated bullying, killing five men in his unit before attempting to kill himself. In July, the death of a conscript named Yoon Seung-joo was blamed on beatings dealt out by his fellow soldiers.

South Koreas Ministry of National Defense officials have publicly stated that this kind of violence within military barracks will not be tolerated. They also say they've encouraged abused soldiers to speak out.

A South Korean court ruled 18 October 2016 in favor of a man who refused to take part in the country's mandatory military service on religious grounds. The Gwangju District Court dismissed an appeal by prosecutors, upholding a previous ruling that found the man not guilty. It also acquitted two other so-called "conscientious objectors" who had been sentenced to one-and-a-half years in prison. All three of the men are Jehovah's Witnesses, who say they are prohibited by their faith from entering the military. The court said the men's refusal of mandatory military service was consistent with their religious faith and conscience, considering how they were brought up. It cited an international trend of recognizing conscientious objectors, and pointed to a growing consensus that some kind of alternative military service is needed in such cases. The Defense Ministry urged the court to use caution and prudence, as cases like this may affect national security, cause a decrease of morale for active-duty servicemen, and enable others to evade military service.

The country's Constitutional Court determined in its ruling on 28 June 2018 ruled it unconstitutional that the country's conscription system bans alternative measures for conscientious objectors, but that it is not against the constitution to criminally punish such objectors. The nine-judge panel led by Chief Justice Lee Jin-sung delivered the decision following a constitutional appeal and petition for adjudication on the constitutionality of clause one under the Military Service Act's Article 88 submitted by a conscientious objector and the court.

The ruling forced the current conscription law to expire at the end of 2019, and that the government must amend the law to introduce alternative service for conscientious objectors. Immediately after the ruling was issued, the Defense Ministry said it would quickly come up with reasonable alternatives to mandatory military service. The ministry said it has been reviewing alternatives that will be fair and not abused by draft dodgers. The decision is the fourth of its kind by the Constitutional Court, after it ruled in favor of the state in 2004 and 2011, citing fulfilling one's military obligations overrides freedom of conscience given the unique security situation on the Korean Peninsula.

The Defense Ministry said 29 July 2018 that alternative service should be unappealing so recruits would rather choose to serve in the military. A senior official of the ministry made the remark during a press conference when asked about concerns that an alternative service may be used as a means to dodge mandatory military service. The official said the ministry will create an organization that will judge whether applicants for an alternative system are trying to avoid conscription.

Regarding the duration of alternative service, the official said it should be long enough to discourage potential misuse of the system, but added the final decision will be made after collecting opinions. There's a strong possibility the government will soon provide alternative military service for conscientious objectors after the Constitutional Court ruled that not allowing alternative measures for them does not conform to the Constitution. Conscientious objectors refer to those who refuse the country's mandatory military service on the grounds of freedom of religion and conscience.

Join the mailing list