Set strategic flexibility asideThe United States has begun preparations to use the U.S. Forces Korea for overseas operations. Gen. Walter Sharp, commander of the ROK-U.S. Combined Forces Command, emphasized this when he said Monday in Washington: “Sometime in the future we could have forces that could, with consultations between both nations [South Korea and the United States], be able to be deployed in different places around the world.”
Prior to the USFK chief’s remarks, U.S. President Barack Obama had hinted at the possibility that American soldiers stationed in South Korea could be redeployed to Afghanistan when he addressed the troops last month at Osan Air Base.
A similar comment about the troops’ “strategic flexibility” was also made by Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States.
The possibility that USFK troops could be deployed overseas has existed since Seoul and Washington agreed to a plan outlining the strategic flexibility of the forces in 2006. However, Washington has remained careful about implementing the agreement because of the expected backlash it would likely cause.
The latest remarks by top U.S. officials, however, show that Washington’s stance has changed. The time has come for us to prepare for the change. One major effect of the plan is that U.S. responsibility for security here will decrease as the plan is implemented. After the plan is place, South Korea will largely become responsible for its own national defense. Some say this is only natural, because the nation’s power has grown. Yet the problem is that the security climate on the Korean Peninsula is unstable. The argument is unrealistic unless there is progress in efforts to denuclearize North Korea, reduce the military power of the two Koreas and establish peace on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia.
Under the strategic flexibility plan, the USFK will serve as the United States’ launching post, which would both change South Korea’s relations with China, Japan and Russia and have an impact on South Korea’s status in the international community. Relations between South Korea and the U.S. will always have an effect on South Korea’s foreign affairs.
We may be able to withstand these problems, but we need time to minimize the negative impact they generate - and that will take time.
We have argued that the scheduled transfer of wartime operational control from the United States to South Korea in 2012 should be reconsidered. Add to that the argument that it is premature to launch the strategic flexibility plan, and what you have are two sides of the same coin.