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[Opinion] What Tripwire Means to South Koreans

Posted February. 18, 2003 22:39,   


Visiting the homepage of the 2nd Infantry Division stationing in South Korea, a brief history of it is narrated as follows: It was born on 26 October, 1917, at Beaumont France. With the outbreak of hostilities in Korea during the summer of 1950, the 2nd Infantry Division was quickly alerted for movement to the Far East Command. In August, 1954, four years after its last unit arrived in Korea, the division was alerted for re-deployment to the United States. The 2nd Infantry Division returned to the Republic of Korea in July of 1965, and has maintained its presence up to this day. US army divisions are activated or deactivated upon necessity. That is also true of the 2nd division. After the Korean War, it was deactivated for some time. Nonetheless, the history demonstrates that it is an army unit of a long history participating in many battles ever since the World War I.

▷ Nowadays, lots of talks are being heard about the future of the division, which is also known for its symbol of the Indian head. Recently, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has made it clear that he would rebalance US solders stationing in South Korea. Many experts believe that at the core of Rumsfeld`s mind lies the plan to move back the 2nd division down to south from its current position close to the DMZ near Seoul. If that really happens at all, the division`s role of the tripwire will not function any more. In other words, the second division, whose presence near the DMZ has guaranteed America`s involvement should a war break out, will no longer serve as a safety guard guaranteeing America`s automatic participation in a war on the peninsula. The dictionary definition of the term "tripwire" helps us understand. It refers to a steel wire that is connected to a booby trap in such a way as to explore upon application of force.

▷ Experts differ from each other in determining whether or not re-deployment of the 2nd division would weaken United States` war deterrence on the Korean Peninsula. Some argue that the United States has to get involved in a war on the peninsula due to its obligation under a mutual defense treaty between the two countries. They further allege that the re-deployment is nothing more than a move to reorganize the old-fashioned infantry division. Others try to believe that the concept of tripwire is not permanent in nature; rather it is undergoing changes. They point to the LLP, a plan under which US army bases and training camps are to be reorganized and re-positioned by 2011, shutting down all the existing bases in the Pahjoo-Moonsan area.

▷Nonetheless, quite a number of South Koreans continuously worry about the re-deployment and feel anxious about the future. They feel so, looking at the souring relationship between South Korea and the United States. The bitter relationship is exemplified by South Koreans` changed US-sentiment demonstrated through the candle-lit rallies, and United States` subtle and complicated reactions to the change. We are worrying and wondering whether the Untied States would help us in earnest as they did 50 years ago, should an "emergency" break out. That is why the military term tripwire, a term sounding so unfamiliar to the general public, is popping up frequently before us these days.

Song Mun-hong, Editorial Writer songmh@donga.com