[INSIGHT]Preserving national security“If foreign troops were stationed in New York’s Central Park, would it be acceptable to Americans?” said U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, advocating the relocation of all American forces at the Yongsan Garrison in central Seoul.
“If a building used by MacArthur’s command were standing in the Japanese imperial palace grounds, wouldn’t it be destroyed?” That is what the Kim Young-sam administration said when it asserted the removal of the old Japanese colonial government building. It is true that after the building, a symbol of Japanese rule, was cleared away and Gyeongbok Palace restored, the Gwanghwamun area has definitely been transformed.
Also, if U.S. forces were completely withdrawn from Yongsan, where foreign forces have been stationed since the Imo Military Revolt of June 1882, and Seoul’s Central Park were built in its place, what a great achievement it would be to raise national pride.
But let’s think again. On March 1, Independence Movement Day, in 1995, we had a ceremony to declare the decision to remove the building; families of patriotic martyrs and representatives from every sector of society were present.
On Aug. 15, 1995, the 50th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japanese rule, the dome of the building was torn down and people cheered, celebrating that at last our national spirit was properly restored. The building, which had been used as central government office space and also housed the National Museum of Korea, was hastily dismantled within just six months.
Because there was no place to keep hundreds of thousands of museum pieces, a shoddy temporary museum was built, and after countless controversies a new museum is still under construction in Yongsan. The cost for the removal of the building was tens of billions of won, and if the cost of the restoration of Gyeongbok Palace and the new museum are included, the cost is truly staggering.
There were opponents to the removal, if only a minority. I argued that even shameful history should be preserved. It would not have been too late to remove the building after constructing a new museum, and rather than wasting hundreds of billions of won worth of goods amid the fever to revive national spirit, improving our trade deficit with Japan and escaping from the dependency of industrial technology would have been a better way to restore the national spirit. But all these arguments were treated as those of anti-national, pro-Japanese forces.
A self-reliant national defense and foreign policy are now in the news. The relocation of Yongsan Garrison to Pyeongtaek, about 45 miles south of Seoul, has an aspect to be seen as an inevitable choice because U.S. military strategy has changed. But last year’s negotiations show that the matter was not so simple. At a meeting in July last year, it was decided that the Combined Forces Command and the UN Command were to stay in Yongsan, but then that decision was reversed in November.
For three years from now, the 2d Infantry Division deployed along the front line will be realigned to Uijeongbu and Dongducheon area and all American forces, including the Combined Forces Command and the UN Command, will be eventually pulled down to Pyeongtaek.
But why was the decision about the commands staying here changed? There was some confrontation in which the United States asked to retain 227 acres in the Yongsan base while Seoul insisted on 138 acres. If 89 acres was the difference between a self-reliant national defense and humiliating diplomacy, something is quite wrong. At that juncture, some senior foreign ministry officials’ derogatory remarks about President Roh Moo-hyun’s foreign policy caused a conflict, a confrontation that could be seen as one between the pro-American foreign ministry and the anti-American independent National Security Council. Eventually, the incident led to the replacement of the foreign minister.
Whatever the internal situation was, the issue of relocating the American military base came to a conclusion after triggering an emotional conflict between Korea and the United States. So it is hard to see it simply as the result of changes in the military strategy of the United States.
Let’s suppose that such emotional sediment between the two countries will settle as time passes. The essence of the problem is our anxiety over security ― whether the Demilitarized Zone can be defended even if all American forces withdraw to south of the Han River. Because it is a shameful argument to hold American forces as hostages to defend our country, let’s forget about the trip wire logic.
When the 2nd Division moves to the south in three years, who will defend the place where it was? The 2nd Division is responsible for the western front. With five brigades equipped with armored fighting power of 140 tanks, 170 Bradley fighting vehicles, 40 Apache helicopters and Crusader Paladin and multiple launch rocket systems, the firepower of the 2nd Division matches that of the three tank divisions of the Korean military.
When the 2nd Division withdraws, a huge defense expenditure will be required. The Korea Institute for Defense Analysis estimated last year that a self-reliant defense would require 64 trillion won ($54 billion) by 2010.
When a vehicle for launching multiple rockets to cope with North Korea’s long-range artillery costs 5 billion won and a new Apache helicopter costs 35 billion won, how can we be equipped with comparable military power? Doesn’t a specific uncertainty, not a vague anxiety, over security mean anything to us?
Did President Roh anticipate such a huge cost for military reinforcement when he decided to advocate an independent defense? Wouldn’t it have been wiser alliance diplomacy to give 89 acres in Yongsan and reduce our defense costs?
I hope the president will deeply consider whether he, being preoccupied with political ambition to restore the national spirit and set up an independent defense during his tenure, happened to forget about preserving our national heritage and neglected our national security.
* The writer is the executive editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kwon Young-bin