[Viewpoint] Selling the Jeju base badly

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[Viewpoint] Selling the Jeju base badly

The Korean government and the Korean Navy have been confronted by resistance to its military plans by leftist political groups and even villagers on Jeju Island over the last ten years or so. This essay presents my studies on U.S. civil-military relations.

Unlike Korean relations, the U.S. relations between its civil and military societies have been close. I have studied Pearl Harbor’s Pacific Fleet command, which was well received by Hawaiians, and the expansion of Fort Belvoir as a result of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Act, which was reluctantly received by northern Virginians.

As a matter of fact, many local and state governments have been discontent to lose military bases in their jurisdictions. This is the exact opposite of the situation surrounding the naval base planned for Jeju.

Northern Virginians were not happy to accept the traffic congestion from Fort Belvoir’s expansion due to the realignment of military installations to cope with the declining U.S. economy and defense budget cuts. Their discontent was centered on traffic jams during local rush hours.

One clear and significant factor I have found in my comparative studies is a failure of the Korean government or Korean Navy to explain to Jeju residents and the Korean people as a whole the necessity of building the base on Jeju. Another factor is that the relationship between the civil and military societies in Korea is very distant.

Korean military organizations have not been well incorporated into the civil society. They have been separate from the rest of the society due to their uniforms and rank-oriented mentalities. Defense ministers have always been retired generals or admirals.

The civil society has not been friendly to the military organization and vice versa. Young people and their families frequently try to avoid compulsory military duty with all kinds of excuses. So the Korean people’s feeling for national security has been dangerously weak.

The Pacific Fleet presented a clear mission statement, vision and guiding principles to the Hawaiian people, Americans in general and the world at large. The command is protecting the islands, the United States and the free world by maintaining peace in the Pacific Ocean and Indian Ocean for free navigation and free trade.

Hawaii is inseparable from Navy families of three generations or more. A great majority of Hawaiians are descendants of admirals, officers and soldiers. They are proud of their identity as being part of the Navy family.

The Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce is playing a pivotal role in bringing Hawaii closer to the U.S. Navy. Businessmen and businesswomen are working closely with the Pacific Fleet command.

Hawaii’s state and local governments are distant second and third parties to the Chamber of Commerce. In one word, the partnership between the U.S. Navy and Hawaii is sound and considered good for Hawaii.

The Pacific Fleet Command was established in Pearl Harbor long before Hawaii became a state. So, its operation may not be relevant to the forthcoming naval base on Jeju. Therefore, this researcher chose the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) as the most current Department of Defense reorganization plan.

Many local governments complained about the loss of defense installations in their areas. This is the opposite of Jeju’s opposition to the construction of the Korean naval base.

Expansion of Fort Belvoir as a result of the BRAC Act of 2005 has been agonizing for the northern Virginian people. Commuters registered harsh complaints over the expansion of Fort Belvoir.

However, pro-defense Republican President George W. Bush and Congress passed the BRAC in order to accommodate the cutbacks in defense spending as the U.S. budget got out of control. The nation understood the necessity of base realignment and closures.

Highway congestion was the main issue of controversy at the end. State and local governments in Virginia orchestrated their efforts to reduce the traffic congestion.

The public can challenge the BRAC Act on the grounds of its environmental impact statement, but it quietly accepts the expansion of the Fort Belvoir installations. The American public and interest groups can easily resort to a court battle against the Department of Defense or the Congressional act. But no suit has been filed.

The BRAC Commission was composed of nine distinguished commissioners representing the military and civil societies, and it conducted public hearings and accommodated the complaints filed from individual citizens and interest groups over a span of one year. The commission’s recommendation to the president and to Congress was final.

The Congressional act, clearly stating the goal and mission of the BRAC and a timetable to carry out this important military reorganization, was completed in the given timeframe. The BRAC Board of Advisors, representing the Department of Defense and state and local governments at the grass-roots level, performed its job well.

The experiences from Hawaii and northern Virginia may offer a guiding light to both the people of Jeju and the Korean government. The Chamber of Commerce and various forms of commissions mixing civil and military personnel are most recommendable to Korean society.

First of all, the Korean people must see the common enemy, the North Korean dictator’s personal army. A midnight torpedo attack on the South Korean naval ship Cheonan and the daylight bombing of Yeonpyeong Island should not be forgotten by the Korean people.

Military leaders failed to educate or enlighten Korean people to be aware of all the possible fronts in the conflict between the two Koreas. National security is not just a presidential mission or our educators’ mission.

Military leaders should be active in propagating the danger faced by South Korea from possible reckless attacks by North Korea.

Not all Korean people are seeing a dangerous enemy in the short distance to the North. Civil-military societies should be closer in defending the nation from a true enemy. United, they survive and prosper. If not, the nation itself is in perilous danger.

Our lines of communication and shipping must be protected by the Korean Navy and the Korean people. That is what the Jeju base is for.

*The writer is a political scientist educated at Yonsei University and Indiana University.

By Choi Yearn-hong
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