[TODAY]Coping with fewer U.S. troops

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[TODAY]Coping with fewer U.S. troops

Plans to relocate a portion of the U.S. forces in Korea to Iraq have sparked a security controversy overnight concerning a possible overall reduction in the number of U.S. troops stationed in Korea.
We argued among ourselves whether there would be a hole in our defense if 3,600 troops of the U.S. 2d Infantry Division, which guards the Dongducheon-Uijeongbu corridor north of Seoul, pull out. We argued over how to fill that hole, should there be one. But security discussions have taken a new turn with the congressional testimony of Paul Wolfowitz, the U.S. deputy defense secretary. Mr. Wolfowitz said the historical “trip-wire” role of the U.S. forces in Korea is now obsolete and even “counterproductive,” and that the brigade in Korea is ideally suited for purposes in Iraq. He clearly indicated that some U.S. forces in Korea will be relocated to Iraq as a part of “a whole restructuring of the U.S. global footprint.”
Now our interest and point of discussion is not on how to make up for the weakening in deterrence against the North should 3,600 U.S. troops relocate to Iraq in July or August. It must now focus on how to fill the gap in military deterrence if more reductions in American forces occur in the next two years. We must first ask ourselves if there is indeed a hole in our defense if the number of U.S. troops in Korea is significantly reduced as part of Global Defense Posture review of the U.S. military. The answer is that it depends on what we do. What should we do? We should maintain our alliance with the United States so as not to compromise the mutual Korea-U.S. defense. If Korea-U.S. relations are maintained and improved upon, based on a firm mutual trust, the gap left by the reduction of U.S. troops can be made up through the overall military capability.
Confidence that the United States will not weaken in its overall military capability even if it reduces the number of its troops stationed abroad lies in the state-of-the-art condition of the U.S. military. For example, in the Gulf War in 1991, the accuracy rate of U.S. long-distance missiles was 10 percent. They could hit the target accurately one out of 10 times. But in the recent Iraqi war, U.S. missiles boasted an incredible accuracy rate of 70 percent.
Unless President George W. Bush changes his mind on the Global Defense Posture review he announced last year, it will continue as planned. We cannot hold back the U.S. forces if they are intent on leaving us. The program is intended to reduce the number of ground troops, made possible by technological advances in U.S. military power. The U.S. Forces in Korea is planning to spend $13 billion in the next three years to further upgrade its already technologically advanced military power. Deployment of a Patriot PAC-3 missile battery is a part of the plan.
There are two reasons that Koreans feel nervous about the reduction in U.S. troops in Korea. One is that we have acquired a habit of depending entirely on the United States for our security in the last 50 years. There have been frequent demonstrations demanding that the U.S. forces withdraw, but the majority of Korean people do not want to see the Americans go and regard them as guardians of Korea. It is natural that people would feel nervous about a change in the position of U.S. forces. Second, there is the impression that the relocation of the U.S. forces in Korea to Iraq and the permanent reduction in numbers was a unilateral decision on the part of the United States, planned with little or no consultation with the Korean government.
There is still time. The government must assure the public that there have been sufficient consultations with the United States on the reduction of the U.S. troops and the security of Korea after the reduction. The consultations should include that the U.S. forces leave their heavy artillery in Korea and that a minimum presence, especially of the air force, be ensured so that there would be no impediments to sharing intelligence on the North’s military movements. The political parties should resist the temptation of using the issue of U.S. forces in Korea for their political purposes, and progressive forces should refrain from using this development to demand the withdrawal of the U.S. troops.
It is more important that we strive to alleviate the military tension between the North and the South by resolving elements of a military threat fundamentally. The reduction in U.S. troops in Korea could bring a turning point in improving North-South relations, especially in alleviating military tension. It will be even more meaningful if we see the results in the forthcoming meeting between senior military officers of the North and South that both sides managed to schedule with difficulty.
The United States withdrew the 7th Infantry Division in Korea that guarded the western front line in 1971, according to the Nixon Doctrine. Relocating the 2d Infantry Division to south of Seoul and leaving the front line to the South Korean military was also part of it. The Nixon Doctrine has been reborn as the Rumsfeld Doctrine after 30 years. It is a fact of history that what is once started is always completed some day.

* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Young-hie
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