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Less Military Means More Peace
U.S. troop cuts are an opportunity for disarmament talks on the Korean peninsula
Cheong Wook Sik (cnpk)     Print Article 
Published 2004-05-24 18:58 (KST)   
While shifting some of its troops from South Korea to Iraq, the United States has decided to beef up its military capability in and around the Korean peninsula to avoid a "military vacuum." According to both domestic and international news agencies, the U.S. is planning to deploy a PAC-2 and a PAC-3 in Gwangju (Gyeonggi Province) and Osan, respectively. The U.S. already deployed a PAC-3 in South Korea last August.

The Washington Post also reported on May 18 that the U.S. would instead dispatch the Stryker battalions to Korea and strengthen its military forces in Asia Pacific region, including more bombers in Guam and an Aegis destroyer in the East Sea.

This series of announcements and movements lead us to believe that the U.S. is accelerating its military beef-up with its shift to Iraq. Both the U.S. and Korean governments claim that the strengthened military capability is enough to offset U.S. forces left in Korea, thus avoiding a "security vacuum."

What makes the U.S. build up of naval and air forces in and around the Korean peninsula possible while shifting some of land forces to Iraq is the fact that the U.S. no longer needs to mobilize naval and air forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. But it has been under pressure when it comes to land forces.

The changes in military operations are in line with the new plan for U.S. forces in Korea to reduce land forces while strengthening naval/air forces, intelligence capabilities and missile defense capabilities.

Here is the problem. Military buildup in and around Korea to avoid a "security vacuum" can create and heighten uncertainty. In other words, without any progress in U.S.-North Korea relations, the changes in military power, considering the U.S. adapted the preemptive strike doctrine against "rogue states" such as North Korea "if necessary," can bring about a backlash from North Korea.

What we should not forget is that this military buildup can cause a "security dilemma" and exacerbate tensions in Korea. In this regard, the new military plan may promote another arms race.

North Korea has been condemning the U.S. movement as a preliminary step in its invasion of North Korea. In their eyes, the U.S. military base relocation and expansion of offensive, defensive and intelligence capabilities are seen as a threat to their nation. North Korea believes that relocating U.S. military bases out of North Korea's long-range artillery reach, while strengthening both its offensive and defensive capabilities, will undermine North Korea's deterrence.

Wary of military budget increase

What is even more troubling is that the transformation of U.S. troops in Korea may lead South Korea to significantly increase its military budget out of fear of a "security vacuum." Pledging "cooperative self-national defense," the Roh administration has been promoting an increase in the military budget. Its efforts were rewarded with substantial military budget increase by 9 percent, which is relatively high considering the average budget increase of 2.1 percent.

Given this trend, the argument for asking the government to use the reduction in the USFK as an opportunity for national defense is highly likely to be the key to future military budget increases. If this assumption comes true, it will be seen as an act reversing the tide of defusing military hostilities and building peace.

Moreover, the argument that the Korean Army should fill the gap left by a departing U.S. Army may aggravate an already problematic military deployment. As many military experts have pointed out, reducing land forces while strengthening naval/air forces to balance the deployment and for better intelligence is key to reforming the Korean military system. If the Korean forces go this route, they will have a head-to-head collision with the U.S. forces in Korea that are reshaping in the exactly same way Korea does.

U.S. troops cut: opportunity for disarmament in the Korean peninsula

Filling the military gap with the Korean forces may ignite another round in the arms race and heighten military tensions, as well as put an enormous burden on the Korean people.

Therefore, the Roh administration should change its view and see the reduction of USFK as an opportunity for disarmament talks between the two Koreas or the U.S., South Korea and North Korea. This will benefit all three parties and lay the groundwork for "compromise" on the nuclear issue as well as expediting the peace process here.

It will be a quite a burden for the U.S. to maintain and manage more than 30,000 U.S. troops in Korea while reshaping its military. Given this fact, disarmament on the Korean peninsula will not undermine the U.S. pledge for security in Korea and could ease the burden to maintain and manage military forces.

North Korea, with its 1 million military personnel, can use this opportunity to change its image from a "hostile nation," to lay the groundwork for a debut on the international stage and to invest its human and physical resources in rebuilding its devastated economy.

It will also be a good opportunity to South Korea because it will be more self-reliant in terms of national defense through three-party disarmament. Moreover, South Korea will be able to restructure its military system without additional economic pressures. It may even be able to cut its military budget. Although it sounds paradoxical, disarmament will be the first step for South Korea to become more self-reliant.

Open your eyes and wake up

Conservative media, experts and the Grand National Party (conservative opposition party) exaggerate and reproduce the so-called "security vacuum" paranoia. It may be uncomfortable for the Korean people to see the U.S. pulling even a few of its troops out of Korea.

But the "security vacuum" argument doesn't make much sense. Without the strengthened military presence in and around Korea, the U.S.-Korea alliance is seen to have already secured an "excessive" level of deterrence against North Korea.

Excluding the U.S., South Korea has injected three to four times more money than North Korea to buildup its military capability over the last 20 years. Today, South Korea's military budget is almost same as North Korea's GDP. If South Korea is losing its ability to fight with North Korea despite all the money it is poured in, the South Korean government is either lying to its citizens or plagued with inefficiency.

North Korea is indeed a great military threat to South Korea. Even though it is not able to win a war against South Korea, any military conflict between the two Koreas will claim a lot of lives and result in widespread damage. This means that preventing a war, at any cost, is a top priority.

How to deal with the shocking news that the United States is pulling out some of its forces stationed in Korea will be the chance for both the Korean government and civil society to show how mature and different Korean people are now. Also this should be a time to assess and evaluate the real threat of North Korea and the current military status on the Korean peninsula.

In the meantime, the reduction of USFK should be seen as an opportunity to promote disarmament in the Korean peninsula. Excessive deterrence between two countries is just a balance of terror. It will only result in a vicious circle of a "security dilemma."
Cheong Wook Sik is a representative of Civil Network for a Peaceful Korea (www.peacekorea.org). This article was translated by Yoon Myeong Jee, a volunteer of CNPK.
©2004 OhmyNews
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