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[Editorial] What “USFK Transfer” Says about Current ROK-U.S. Relationship

[Editorial] What “USFK Transfer” Says about Current ROK-U.S. Relationship

Posted May. 17, 2004 22:21,   


The plan to have thousands of U.S. Forces in Korea (USFK) troops in Korea sent to Iraq comes as a shock, and the news is being received with mixed views. First of all, the plan to transfer USFK for the sake of stability in Iraq leaves us wondering if the ROK-U.S. alliance is being loosened. We cannot help feeling uneasy having so many troops sent away at a time when our peninsula is not at ease with the nuclear issue in North Korea. Such security worries were immediately reflected in the stock market yesterday. We are now worried about what impact it will have on sovereign rating and on the investor confidence of foreign investors who regard the security issue seriously.

The method of negotiation between the U.S and Korea adds to such anxiety. The Korean government said that it is discussing on the matter in terms of the size of the troop and the date of the transfer. It seems, however, nearly impossible to change the framework of the plan set up by the U.S. In fact, it was a “unilateral announcement” from the United States. Such a unilaterally-made decision to pull out USFK, which is supposed to be in Korea for the benefits of both Korea and the United States, is nothing less than an alert for serious problem in the relationship between the two allies. The fact that Korean government did not take any significant action about this decision is another doubtful matter. The government could have made some effort against this transfer when the U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld hinted about moving USFK two weeks ago.

The seriousness of the situation will only become greater if the decision of the USFK transfer was a result of influences from the delayed troop dispatch, the negative responses from Koreans about the plans to move the USFK military base at Yongsan, and the ever-increasing anti-American sentiment. It is not too difficult to see how the U.S. is in a desperate need of additional soldiers to stabilize the worsening situation in Iraq. Also, it is true that the promised additional dispatch of troops to Iraq is being delayed. It is about time to assess the situation to see if the decision to transfer USFK was incurred by different perspective of the two countries.

There are some who view the situation from the changed strategic framework of the United States instead of turning it into a problem of ROK-U.S. Alliance. A high-ranking official from the government explains, “The United States has decided to pull out some USFK troops following the plans to realign and to make changes in the role of U.S. troops on foreign ground. It is not to be seen as a pressure to speed up Korea’s troop dispatch to Iraq.”

The transfer of USFK should not be convoluted into a big problem since some troops from the U.S. forces in Europe and Japan are also being pulled into Iraq. The assertion is that there should not be a problem as long as there is the guarantee of USFK’s return after the mission since the United States is trying out the so-called “strategic flexibility,” in which the troops stationed on foreign grounds are sent to other locations as needed and returned to their posts after their special mission.

However, the whole perspective about the USFK is to be fundamentally changed if the United States is pulling out its troops for such purposes. We now need to make clear whether we consider the USFK as a deterrent force against the conflict with the North Korea or a regional security force. We will have to shift our views as well about the USFK in order to work with the changed military framework of the U.S. forces.

The government will have to consider all factors in dealing with the situation. Unless there is a total confidence to be self-reliant in national defense without the help of USFK, the governments of both countries will have to come up with measures to ease security worries following the reduction and the transfer of USFK. For example, there is the allocation of high-tech weapons around the peninsula in order to fill in the gap of manpower created after the transfer of a considerable number of troops.

The issue of dispatching more troops to Iraq should also be concluded shortly. Now is not the time to have the relationship of the two countries decided by street opinions. We will have to take proper measure in a composed manner, taking the reality into consideration. A way to ease people’s anxious minds is to disclose as much as the security problems allow about the things being talked over the table between the two countries.