[TODAY]General Campbell said what?A Matryoshka doll is the traditional wooden Russian doll in which one doll contains a smaller one, which in turn contains a smaller one, and so on. Recent announcements concerning the U.S. Armed Forces in Korea have been like a Matryoshka doll given to us by the United States. There was the biggest doll, an American brigade’s transfer to Iraq, and inside that doll turned out to be another one, the reduction of the United States Forces Korea. Inside that was yet another doll, the change in the U.S. troops’ role on the peninsula.
Transferring one American military brigade to Iraq means a mathematically calculated decrease in military capacity of 3,600 American soldiers, multiplied by the amount of equipment they have. This thought may worry some psychologically, but it is not an amount that makes us worry about a serious loss of military deterrent power against North Korea.
But the second Matryoshka raises a quite serious issue. The plan is to largely reduce the number of fixed ground troops in Korea, and to sustain U.S. military capability with the latest weaponry and long-distance transport capacity of the U.S. Navy and Air Force.
The third Matryoshuka that was inside the suspicious second one was that the U.S. forces in Korea would expand their role, and their area of action, to include all of Northeast Asia. This does not apply solely to the American forces in Korea. Korean soldiers who are a part of the South Korea-U.S. combined forces command would also have to participate in Northeast Asian wars.
The message that the chief of staff of the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command, Lieutenant General Charles Campbell, relayed to Korea at the press conference was clear. He stated that the combined forces of Korea and America could participate in humanitarian or peacekeeping operations in Northeast Asia.
Supposing that the worst-case scenario of America and China going to war over Taiwan comes true, Korean soldiers would have to attack the Chinese. Should Japan and China go to war over the Spratly Islands dispute, Korea will have to be a part of it if the United States gets involved.
It was known that the Bush administration’s Global Defense Posture Review called for upgrading America’s overseas military presence, making it fast and mobile by way of the latest weaponry, and completely rearranging the forces’ positioning. The rearrangement and reduction of the USFK was anticipated as part of this strategy; the situation in Iraq simply advanced the date a little.
But when was it decided that Korean and American forces would collaborate in Northeast Asian wars, and who participated in the decisions? The role of the American soldiers, as far as we are aware, is that that those stationed in Korea, Japan and Guam would help South Korea drive back the North’s forces in the event of an attack. But the new strategy Campbell announced indicates that Korean soldiers may participate in wars off the peninsula. This can only be called a surprise.
A Northeast Asian dispute significant enough to start a war would most likely be one among America, Japan and China. For Korea to interfere in a war between those countries would be like a shrimp with a kitchen knife trying to get between whales armed with missiles. The question of Korean soldiers playing a role in wars involving America is one that can be discussed, for we are America’s ally. But in the end, given that we are a small country surrounded by stronger ones, Korea has to come first, and deterrence against North Korea has to take priority as long as the North and the South are not united.
So how is it that the chief of staff of the combined Korean-American forces can suddenly unveil, without a word of discussion, a strategy in which Korean soldiers would fight in battles elsewhere? The idea of even the American forces in Korea intervening in Northeast Asian battles is a sensitive issue, because the American bases in Korea could become a target of attack. This is also why Turkey, a member of NATO, did not allow the U.S. to use its bases during the Iraq war. North Korea and China are already carefully observing the plans to update the USFK.
General Campbell said the combined forces of Korea and America could participate in humanitarian or peacekeeping operations in Northeast Asia. What did he mean by “humanitarian operations?” What are the “peacekeeping operations in Northeast Asia?”
Can we be sure that “combined forces of Korea and America” does not include Korean soldiers? What are the Ministry of National Defense, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the NSC doing?
The Korean government needs to make a statement about where Campbell got such an idea. An agreement on sending Korean soldiers to wars outside of Korea cannot be made with the United States. The lack of talks and negotiations concerning national security is cause for unease.
* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Young-hie