Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin expressed deep regret Wednesday that the National Assembly passed the New Year's budget with nearly 500 billion cut from his ministry's proposal.
"It's not right to slash the defense budget in order to use the financial resources for other purposes at this critical time when national security has emerged as a big issue," Kim told reporters. "If there were any people out there who were aware of the significance of national security, I assume that such a cut would never have happened. I deeply regret this."
On Wednesday, a high-ranking Cheong Wa Dae official also expressed a similar concern about the cut.
"(Lawmakers) increased the welfare budget significantly, while cutting money for national security. I am concerned that they downplayed the need for security investment at a time when national security faces a challenge," he told reporters on condition of anonymity.
The official said 500 billion won, which was cut from the ministry's proposal, would enable the government to develop a defense system that can destroy nearly 90 percent of North Korea's artillery capabilities.
"If we secured another 500 billion won for defense, we can protect core facilities in Seoul from possible North Korean airstrikes."
The official lamented populist politicians' putting welfare ahead of security in the negotiations to set the budget, indicating they did the opposite to what other nations do on the military.
"Even countries like Switzerland, which is neutral, spends a considerable amount of financial resources to defend the nation," he said.
His remarks were construed as meaning that the defense budget cut was the wrong choice, given South Korea is facing an even tougher security environment than the European nation.
Due to the defense budget cut, several projects are to be either delayed or modified. Some 130 billion won was cut from the next generation fighter jet program from the government proposal; 56.4 billion won was cut from the spending on long-range guided missiles; and 50 billion won from the strike helicopter program. The military sought these projects to modernize its defense capabilities against possible attacks by the North.
The National Assembly scaled back the defense budget to get more money for social policies and infrastructure building. Nearly a third of the entire budget is to be used to finance welfare projects to fight the widening income gap between high- and low-income earners and provide a safety net for those who have been marginalized.
The welfare budget increase at the expense of defense came amid a challenging security environment facing Korea.
Last month, North Korea successfully launched a long-range Unha-3 rocket that put a satellite into orbit. North Korea watchers and other countries saw the launch as test of long-range ballistic missile technology that can carry nuclear warheads.