U.S. Moves Bode Ill for Korea's Long-Term Security

      February 03, 2010 12:25

      The U.S. Defense Department said in its Quadrennial Defense Review unveiled on Monday, "The status of U.S. forces in Korea is changing from being forward-deployed to forward-stationed with family members," meaning USFK personnel will be made to stay longer when they are accompanied by their families. "When fully implemented, this change will enable forces to deploy from South Korea, helping to expand the pool of available forces for global contingencies."

      At present, the U.S. government is in the process of changing the tour of duty for the 28,500 USFK troops from one year to three accompanied by family and says an entirely new method of deployment will be implemented over the next three to four years. The report says the USFK can then be re-deployed to other conflict areas in the world at any time.

      The QDR, issued every four years, serves as the guide for U.S. defense spending and troop deployment. Since 2000, Washington has been seeking to free overseas troops from being tied to a particular geographic region, a cost-saving program dubbed "strategic flexibility." It has assured Seoul that no special changes would happen to the USFK, but as the latest report says, the USFK will not only protect South Korea from a possible invasion by the North but also be deployed elsewhere, the cue being in the jargon "forward-stationed" instead of "forward-deployed." That could mean that the USFK become less of a deterrent to North Korea.

      "We are in close cooperation with the [South] Korean government to implement the plans that have already been agreed upon," adding that the transfer of full operational control of Korean troops to Seoul will take place as scheduled on April 17, 2012. It appears that the U.S. is determined to hand over the primary burden of defense to the South Korean government.

      In its Ballistic Missile Defense Review, the U.S. Defense Department on Tuesday acknowledged progress North Korea has made in missile technology and predicted that the North will be able to mount a nuclear warhead onto a long-range missile within 10 years. Nonetheless, it intends to hand over wartime operational control of South Korean troops to Seoul in 2012 and free American troops on the peninsula to serve in other areas one or two years later.

      The Defense Ministry responded the matter "needs to be discussed over the mid- to long term" and added that it would seek "remedial measures." But an issue as important as this cannot be resolved through patch-up measures. The U.S. and South Korea must approach the issue at the highest level of government and begin negotiations as soon as possible to look for alternatives.

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