[EDITORIALS]Significant change at the JSAThe task of guarding the Joint Security Area (JSA) near the truce village of Panmunjeom, overseen by the U.S. Forces in Korea for more than five decades, has now been transferred to the Korean military. For the first time in half a century, Korean forces will take sole responsibility for guarding it. However, this change is still at the symbolic stage. The JSA will remain under United Nations command, and the control of military operations during wartime remains in U.S. hands.
Even so, the change is a desirable one. Before now, the north of Panmunjeom was guarded by North Korea’s military, but the south was guarded by U.S. forces, an awkward fact. Now, defending the armistice line is our responsibility.
Our new security challenges are becoming realities. First of all, how prepared are we to fill the void left by U.S. forces’ withdrawal from the JSA? They have been at the vanguard of our defense. The 2d Infantry Division has been pivotal in deterring North Korean military aggression. Hence, if the U.S. military withdraws to the south, unexpected problems in defense strategy are highly likely to arise. The government must meticulously prepare for contingencies. North Korea’s response to the changing of the guard at JSA is also worth noting. It has claimed that transferring responsibility for the Demilitarized Zone from the United States to South Korea violates the armistice agreement. In April, the North threatened to stop phone contacts and meetings with officers of the United Nations Command.
This could lead to an escalation of tension in the region. When a South Korean general was appointed chief representative of the Military Armistice Commission, the North protested by force and took actions to debilitate the commission. The government must be well prepared for such moves.
Guarding the JSA is one of the “10 Tasks” U.S. forces have pledged to transfer to the South Korean military. The costs of transferring and assuming responsibility for these tasks amounts to almost 120 billion won ($107 million). For relocation of the Yongsan garrison and the realignment of the 2d Infantry Division, more money will be needed. Compensating for the decreased U.S. military presence is also an imperative. Instead of always calling for “independent self defense,” the government must provide specifics of how it will cover all the expenses entailed in reorganizing our defense.