Committee OKs deployment bill

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Committee OKs deployment bill

A key committee in the National Assembly has approved a bill to enable the military to expand its overseas deployment for a wide range of missions.

The National Defense Committee of the National Assembly passed a bill on Monday to create a new law that would allow Korean troops to participate in overseas missions.

Until now, the United Nations Peacekeeping Operations Participation Act was the only law that governed the dispatch of Korean troops.

Korea’s deployment of troops in the Vietnam War in 1965 and the war in Iraq in 2004 were approved by the National Assembly, but they were special measures sanctioned without legal grounds.

“The law will establish the legal ground to allow the government to send troops for missions abroad,” a military official said.

Under the new law, the government will be allowed to deploy troops not only for the peacekeeping operations approved by the UN Security Council, but also at the request of the United Nations, coalition forces and a host country.

Soldiers will also be able to serve in a wider range of missions. Until now, peacekeepers were only allowed to serve missions within UN guidelines, but the new law will enable the military to carry out its own operation. However, the military still needs to obtain approval by the National Assembly on the duration of the deployment and the number of troops.

“Until now, the deployment of Korean troops was limited to peacekeeping,” said Saenuri Rep. Song Yong-keun, who sponsored the bill. “But from now on, they will be able to play a more active role in peacemaking.”

The military said it is considering creating a permanent unit that would specialize in overseas missions. “For a speedy deployment, we need to have a contingent specialized in such missions,” said a government official.

“When the Philippines suffered damage from the typhoon two years ago, we decided to support the reconstruction of the country,” said a source from the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “But it took a month for us to create the Araw Contingent. With the new law, we will be able to speed up our operation.”

Shin In-kyun, who heads the Seoul-based think tank the Korea Defense Network, said the new law will serve to heighten Korea’s prestige in the international community. “If we hesitate to support neighbors in distress, we could be isolated,” he said.

Concerns, however, have been expressed about the possibility that Korea might be dragged into various international conflicts.

“Until now, we were able to prudently respond to the demands of deployments because we only had a law governing the peacekeeping missions,” said Rep. Jin Sung-joon, a member of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD). “That’s why we were able to send only non-combat troops when we participated in the Iraq war.”

Another military official agreed. “When the United States creates a coalition force in the future or makes various military requests, it will become harder to turn them down because of this new law,” he said.

BY YOO SUNG-WOON [myoja@joongang.co.kr]



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