Defense Ministry revises law to allow BTS members to defer military service until age 30

BTS at the 2020 Billboard Music Awards last month. [BIG HIT ENTERTAINMENT]

The Ministry of National Defense on Tuesday revised the country’s military conscription law that allows men who made exceptional contributions to Korea's culture, like the members of the world-renowned K-pop group BTS, to postpone enlistment until the age of 30.

The revision to the Military Service Act, which was passed by the National Assembly earlier this month, will allow exceptions for only those who have been recommended by the Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism on the basis of their contributions to elevating national prestige.

Selections will be made from those who have received decorations for cultural merit. They will be allowed to delay their mandatory military service of 18 months until they are 30.

All able-bodied men in the country are required to enlist by 28 at the latest, and though special exemptions existed prior to the revision, they only applied to athletes and classical musicians who won international competitions.

But BTS’s extraordinary success over the last few years generated immense groundswell among fans that the seven-member boy band should be accorded the same privilege for their undeniable contributions to raising Korea’s international image.

The change to the conscription law, which was designed specifically with BTS in mind, will immediately affect the band’s fortunes. In 2018, BTS was awarded the Order of Cultural Merit by President Moon Jae-in, making its members eligible for the deferral.

The group’s oldest member, Jin, turned 28 earlier this month. The new law will allow him and the band to continue their streak of success for at least two more years, until 2022.

Still, the revision didn't come without some controversy in a country where draft dodging has broken many careers for celebrities and other public figures.

To “minimize” abuse of the new law, the Defense Ministry said the new criteria for culture-related deferrals would be applied as strictly as possible, with guidelines to be specified further until the change takes effect six months from now.

The age of 30 is also the ceiling for deferrals to conscription granted for other reasons, such as undergraduate or graduate studies abroad.

The fact that the revision concerns deferral rather than complete exemption, and because it merely serves to broaden eligibility to prominent pop artists, undercut dissent toward the change.

BTS’s managing label, Big Hit Entertainment, has stressed on multiple occasions that the members of the band would fulfill their military service without exception.