[EDITORIALS]Who pays to move the base?The U.S. military’s relocation project has gained a foothold, as the Korean government has expelled the villagers and activists from the area designated for the expansion in Pyeongtaek, a city south of Seoul.
Other obstacles, remain however. The biggest is a cost-sharing agreement between the two countries for restoring environmental damage to lands used by the U.S. military before its transfer to Pyeongtaek.
The issue has been prolonged not only by disagreements between Korea and the United states, but within the Korean government as well. Too many regulations and laws are entwined around this issue.
Washington argues that it has no obligation to pay for the environmental restoration of the land, citing clauses in the Status of Forces Agreement. Korea, however, has officially stated that it is the United States’s obligation to pay, according to an agreement between the two countries on the environment inspection and restoration of the U.S. military base.
The United States said the Status of Forces Agreement, which is backed by international law, has priority over the other agreement, which has no legal binding power.
The problem is that the latter agreement was too vague. One clause states that the Korean government must respect all related environment laws and regulations, as long as it does not harm U.S. standards and policies. Seoul stresses the first part and the United States emphasizes the latter.
Different opinions by different ministries have only worsened the situation. The Environment Ministry views the controversy as an environmental one and wants to make the United States pay more money. The Foreign Ministry and Defense Ministry, however, care more about the future of the South Korea-U.S. alliance.
Each ministry must have taken its own stance out of regard for national interest. However, they must now come to an agreement, because the U.S. military relocation cannot be delayed any further.
The Foreign Ministry should not underestimate security issues under pressure from civic environmental groups. This issue must not become another obstacle when there are already many hindrances surrounding the transfer of the U.S. base.
There are already too many problems with the transfer. Seoul should compromise with Washington, and Washington should also take a step back, so that the issue does not become another wedge between the two nations.