[OUTLOOK]‘Flexible’ U.S. forces in Korea

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[OUTLOOK]‘Flexible’ U.S. forces in Korea

At the annual Security Consultative Meeting, the United States mentioned “the strategic flexibility” of the U.S. forces in Korea, a concept that has caught many people’s attention.
Most of all, people are worried whether the nature of the Korea-U.S. alliance would change and whether there would be a security gap on the Korean Peninsula should the U.S. demands be realized. The public is all the more nervous about national security because such a sensitive issue has been brought up in a situation when the Bush administration’s impression of Korea has been influenced negatively by the anti-American, pro-North tendency of the Roh Moo-hyun administration.
The concept of “strategic flexibility” that the United States is planning is a core issue in the Global Defense Posture Review, the U.S. government’s plan to redeploy its forces around the world.
The revolution in U.S. military technology over recent years and the realization that its current military system may not be effective for fighting terrorism has prompted the United States to pursue a new military approach.
The new thinking is based on mobility and flexibility for its forces, more appropriate in this urgent situation when it is faced with the threat of terrorism in all parts of the world. The Bush administration had experienced some difficulties in the latest war in Iraq because of the time it took to dispatch some of the U.S. forces stationed in Europe to the Middle East.
Although not completely disclosed to the Korean public, the “strategic flexibility” that the United States wants is already being realized on the Korean Peninsula. U.S. naval forces and air force fighter-bombers are dispatched to Korea according to the security situation on the peninsula and about 1,500 of the ground-based force are deployed flexibly. At the security meeting, the details of how to implement this flexibility were discussed.
The concept of “strategic flexibility” is not all bad for Korean security. Of course, it is true that there would be a negative effect on South Korea’s security situation when part of the U.S. forces stationed in the Korean Peninsula are deployed elsewhere, perhaps for a multinational military activity under the Proliferation Security Initiative, for an anti-terrorism operation in the vicinity or for a military conflict between China and Taiwan.
But strategic flexibility is based on a “flow in and out” concept that means that U.S. forces stationed elsewhere in Northeast Asia could always be deployed to Korea should the security situation on the Korean Peninsula become unstable or if there were a military clash.
This plan is part of the global military strategy of the United States, and it would be difficult to exclude U.S. forces in Korea from this strategy. But what is urgently needed in the process of South Korea and the United States ,negotiations on this issue is consideration of South Korea’s special security situation and the elimination of any obstacles in projecting deterrence.
For the last few years, the Kim Dae-jung government’s “sunshine policy” has almost suffocated the awareness of the Korean people about security issues. After the summit meeting with North Korea, President Kim himself announced that the threat of war was gone from the Korean Peninsula, and certain progressive politicians claimed that our own military power was enough to protect our homeland.
These politicians claimed that the U.S. forces in Korea were an “obstacle” to the development of North-South relations. This is a very dangerous claim. The military threat from North Korea is very real. North Korea’s development of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, is even more proof of that.
Therefore, in discussing “strategic flexibility,” the most important thing is to make sure that there are no gaps in our security and that the defense levels of both South Korea and the United States are not lowered even in cases of contingencies when part of the U.S. forces in Korea are deployed elsewhere.
There must be a close-knit system of cooperation between the two countries. In addition, there must be a recovery of trust between South Korea and the United States.
If we keep these points in mind, the strategic flexibility issue with the relocation of U.S. forces in Korea isn’t a problem to worry about.

* The writer is a professor of international relations at Myongji University and senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Seung-hwan
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