November 15, 2007

Construction of Expanded US Military Base in South Korea

News Item: "Construction began Tuesday on the U.S. military's new Korean headquarters [in Pyeongtaek], part of a movement of American forces away from the North Korean border."

Commentary: Despite heavy civilian opposition, the US and ROK will spend $12 billion to build new US military facilities in Pyeongtaek, about 60 miles south of Seoul. The US Forces Korea (USFK) is consolidating its current bases to Pyeongtaek, highlighted by the move of its command center from the Yongsan base in Seoul. The Yongsan base became a political liability to the US military because it sits right in the middle of downtown Seoul (an unusual and anachronistic enclave of overt foreign presence in a highly-developed metropolis) and attracted daily anti-US protests. The US military, when it landed in Korea in 1945, disregarded the anti-colonial sensitivity of Koreans by occupying the same military garrison in Yongsan used by the much-despised Japanese colonial army. And the US military stayed there for more than 62 years.

Moving bases away from the frontline DMZ indicates a change in US military strategy in Korea or perhaps a reflection of changed inter-Korean political situation that calls for rapproachement and South Korea's emergence as a economic and military powerhouse, but it also suggests a new role for the US military in Korea as a regional contingency force in the "strategic flexibility" doctrine. When the peace treaty to formally end the Korean War is signed, how will the status of US forces in Korea be addressed?

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