Why is military integration necessary before Korea is completely reunified? The reason lies in the purpose of the military’s existence. The armed forces of each country exist to protect the country and its people, wherever they belong. In addition, the military is the most powerful group to receive the most powerful system education as it is an armed group to maintain the system of the country concerned. Therefore, for complete unification, military integration must precede the next step.
In particular, since South Korea is a liberal democracy, there are few military exchanges with terrorist organizations that have adopted North Korean socialism, and systemic competition is inevitable if unification is achieved. Therefore, by examining other countries’ examples of military integration, it can be an opportunity to reconsider Korea’s unification process.
German Military Integration
The peaceful reunification of Germany was a political result achieved in the shortest period of time and without armed conflict through the national consensus process between West Germany and East Germany, and the West German Federal Army was able to absorb and unify the East German People’s Army relatively smoothly. However, due to the sudden unification, there was no clear plan for military unification, so trial and error was inevitable.
The biggest difficulty in the process of implementing military integration is the fact that information on the East German People’s Army was limited. West Germany knew very little about the war doctrines of the East German forces and the approximate size of their forces. For this reason, West Germany operated a field expedition team to conduct military integration.
Since military integration was a very important issue in work, then German Defense Minister Volker Rue emphasized the importance of military integration, saying, “German unification means unification of the armed forces.” In the treaty of unification between West and East Germany, unified Germany maintained a total of 370,000 federal troops, and West Germany agreed to acquire 50,000 East German troops.
- A unified Germany maintains 370,000 troops and maintains denuclearization.
- Within three to four years, the Soviet troops (385,000 men) in East Germany will be withdrawn, and Germany will pay the cost.
- Germany concludes a mutual nonaggression and comprehensive agreement with the Soviet Union.
As a result, the Soviet army completely withdrew from unified Germany, and all East German forces were disbanded except for 50,000. As a unified Germany had to maintain 370,000 troops, West Germany had to reduce its forces. To this end, the following items were implemented.
- Shorten the period of mandatory military service in the East German Army: 18 months → 12 months
- Shorten the period of mandatory military service in the West German Army: 15 months → 12 months
- Implementation of mutual exchanges for the purpose of expanding military exchanges between West and East Germany
- Announcement of plans to incorporate 50,000 East German troops into West Germany
- Completed the handover of the command right of the East German People’s Army to the Defense Minister with the declaration of German unification
What should be looked at in this process is the status of decommissioning of the East German Army. Just before German reunification, all officers above the rank of colonel, generals, admirals, soldiers over 55 years old, and all political officers were forcibly demobilized, and most of the non-commissioned officers were discharged voluntarily. In addition, East German officers transferred to West Germany were demoted to one or two ranks. This was due to class inflation in the East German army, and this measure was able to keep the balance with West Germany.
In terms of military integration between West and East Germany, it can be said that it is similar to Korea in that there was little exchange and cooperation in the military field prior to unification. It can also be said that the military integration between West Germany of the liberal democracy and East Germany of the communist camp is similar.
Vietnam Military Integration
Vietnam is a country with a painful history. The Vietnam War lasted about 20 years from 1955 to 1975. There is a reason that the period has been extended because the US military could not easily withdraw from the Vietnam War to the extent that it was called an exit strategy, but the important point is that war is terrifying. As a result, North Vietnam was victorious and Vietnam was unified.
After the unification of Vietnam by force, the North Vietnamese Labor Party cadres established military committees at all levels throughout South Vietnam while controlling all real powers in South Vietnam to integrate military affairs. In addition, the People’s Revolutionary Committee was established in the lower administrative districts to entrust local administration.
In the process, North Vietnam implemented a policy of thoroughly rejecting the South Vietnamese People’s Liberation Front forces. In terms of military management, unilateral management was conducted mainly in North Vietnam, and about 6,000 South Vietnamese soldiers who were hostile to the revolutionary regime were executed, and 1 million peasants were forcibly relocated to mountainous areas to form a communist collective farm. In addition, the South Vietnamese army was completely dismantled, and the South Vietnamese army tried to forcibly absorb and integrate the military through unconditional surrender and dismantling, such as maintaining the size of the existing forces in Vietnam.
Vietnam’s military integration had the advantage of clear standards and shortened time required, but because unethical behavior often occurred during the integration process, distrust and hostility toward both sides were amplified. Therefore, it caused difficulties in spiritually merging North and South Vietnam. In the non-military aspect, it caused the non-cooperative attitude of the residents, which had negative consequences that hindered the development of various fields such as politics, economy, society, and culture.
Yemen Military Integration
Yemen achieved unification according to a peaceful agreement. However, the immature agreement process has made the administration large and inefficient, and the military chain of command is unclear. Conflict between the North and South Yemeni residents intensified due to the failure to resolve religious issues, and anti-government protests, workers’ strikes, and riots occurred frequently. Even South Yemeni leaders refused to form a government and withdrew to Aden, the South Yemeni capital. In this state, mutual distrust was amplified, resulting in armed conflict, and with the victory of North Yemen, Yemen was reunited by force. It is estimated that the reason for the military clash four years after unification was that complete military integration was not achieved.
Before reunification, North Yemen had a large number of troops, but in terms of quality, South Yemen was superior, so it was evaluated that the military power was equal to each other. Accordingly, the principle of one-on-one equal integration was applied in the process of military integration. Yemen maintained its military size at a level similar to that before reunification, and operated in a mixed formation. It was not a perfect integration, so they continued to be stationed there while wearing the military uniforms of North and South Yemen respectively. The chain of command was not unified, so the North and South Yemeni armies followed their respective chains of command. The Chief of Staff was appointed from the North and South Yemen, respectively, and the key positions of the Ministry of National Defense were equally distributed among those from Yemen, and the principle of one-on-one equality was observed. However, as a result, practical military integration was not achieved, and governments oriented toward each government continued to exist in one country. Eventually, the dispute broke out again.
Korea Military Integration
Looking at the military integration process of the three countries, the peaceful and systematic military integration is the unification of Germany. Vietnam was able to quickly process unification into a communist system and military integration through North Vietnam-led unification, but in the process, it ignored the opposition of its members and sacrificed it. Yemen applied the principle of one-on-one equal integration for peaceful military integration, but as a result, the conflict rekindled, and North Yemen unified Yemen by force.
On the other hand, Germany’s military integration process was based on mutual trust. Since there was little military exchange, West Germany operated a field expedition team and expanded opportunities for military exchanges, such as allowing East German officers to enter a West German officer training course. However, the officers of the East German Army, colonel or higher, were forcibly retired, and only 50,000 were able to be transferred to West Germany. Officers joining West Germany were downgraded by one or two ranks to address class inflation, but dissatisfaction was minimized by providing corresponding financial and social benefits. Germany’s military integration process was relatively peaceful and systematic, and the case of Germany’s military integration is inevitably important in the study of military integration measures applicable to the unification of the Republic of Korea.
Assuming that South Korea-led unification takes place, military unification will result in the ROK military absorbing and integrating the Korean People’s Army. There has been no military or political exchange between South Korea and North Korea since division, mutual mistrust is amplified due to North Korean military provocations, and there is a big difference in military power between the ROK and the Korean People’s Army. First of all, since there has been no military and political exchange for a long time, it is essential to dispose of soldiers whose beliefs in the North Korean-style communist system are deeply rooted.
Accordingly, officers and operatives of the North Korean Workers’ Party of Korea who graduated from the Kim Il Sung National Defense University, graduated from the Kim Jong Il Political Military University, and officers and soldiers who graduated from the Kim Jong Un National Defense University, and finally, high-ranking officers above the colonel level, are required to retire.
In addition, other troops must go through a screening process before being transferred to the unified armed forces. Also, as seen in the case of Yemen, in order to prevent the collapse of the command system, the commanders and key staff of all units stationed in North Korea should be appointed as ROK military officers to unify the command system into the ROK military. The size of the unified armed forces may be reduced depending on the international situation after unification, but additional research is needed because there are three potential diplomatic enemies: China, Russia, and Japan.
As seen in the case of Germany, if there are officers or soldiers of the Korean People’s Army who are transferred to the ROK after being selected, their ranks must be adjusted. Since the rank systems of the ROK Army and the Korean People’s Army are different, a single standard is required. It is necessary to downgrade the ranks of soldiers from the Korean People’s Army based on officers by applying the Korean rank system. The Korean People’s Army, which has been incorporated into the ROK Army, is familiar with the North Korean terrain, so it is necessary to take measures to serve in the field, and to assist the ROK military officer, the commander, to ensure efficient operation.
After unification, the role of military intelligence agencies may become important. This is because, although the commander and main staff of units in North Korea are ROK officers, some officers and most of the soldiers are from the Korean People’s Army, so it is necessary to clarify the monitoring system for them. Even if military integration is achieved after reunification, it takes about 10 years for soldiers from the Korean People’s Army to be discharged or to complete their mental transformation. Therefore, by expanding the organization size of the Defense Counterintelligence Command (DCC) for a certain period of time, counterintelligence activities must be strengthened to prepare for contingencies.