USFK Relocation in Trouble

One of the most interesting things I observed during my recent visit to Seoul was the absence of any apparent arrangements to evacuate Yongsan Garrison, in the heart of Seoul. The relocation plan calls for the evacuation of Yongsan by the end of next year, and the movement of all of its facilities to Camp Humphreys, near the shitty city of Pyeongtaek. Yet the only visible changes at Yongsan are improvements — the new bridge connecting Main and South Post, the hospital renovation, and the new shopping area near the PX. Otherwise, the place was eerily unchanged, although friends in the know tell me that most of the various offices do have plans to make the move. Eventually.

With the South Korean government’s timid response to the radical left’s transformation of the issue into one of nationalism and anti-American politics, the immediate question is whether the U.S. will be able to occupy its new home. It appears that question will be answered in the affirmative in the reasonably near future, but only after more violence, which will result in no prosecutions.

The greater issue is money, with the U.S. sounding increasingly discontented with the South Korean “final offer” on what they will contribute to the cost of the move. The issue has long been contentious, and one on which the U.S. side has shown some real spine. Assistant Secretary for Defense Richard Lawless has previously stated that absent a successful resolution of a related issue, the size of the new facility, the U.S. might just reduce the size of the contingent that moves to Humphreys and order the rest back home. Just over a year ago, the U.S. broke another cost-sharing deadlock by summarily laying off Korean workers it could no longer afford to pay. In that context, the news that the U.S. has requested a delay in the deadline for presenting a “master plan” for the move is ominous, at least for those who believe that USFK still serves U.S. interests.

In another sense, it’s an excellent idea. As with the FTA issue, controversial issues like this ought not to be aired out in the middle of an election campaign. Korea will hold local elections on May 31st. Better they should keep talking about Tokdo.

14 Comments

  1. Um, the improvements you mentioned were in the budget some years before the decision was finalized to move to Pyongtaek.

    As for a lack of planning, the folks with whom I have limited association with USFK have in fact been preparing for post-move operations.

    The move is going through, and that is a good thing. Troops in the capital is a sore point—it’s not just about the prime real estate. A smaller footprint well outside the capital will make it harder for the “progressives” to get public opinion to coalesce around their cause du jour.




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  2. I think the delay signals some Korean government officials’ foot-dragging, but from my time at Yongsan last year and updates from former colleagues, preparations are going forward (e.g., purchasing/leasing land). I believe the move will happen, if 2-3 years behind schedule.

    If it comes down to it, probably exactly what you suggest will happen; a smaller force will relocate while the rest goes someplace else (Bulgaria?!).

    When I was stationed in Germany a few years back, I was at a facility that about half of was being returned to the German government. Because upgrades had been contracted before the decision to return the land, about three months before turning it over, complete renovations were done to several facilities. I guess the contracting folks don’t have a standard clause for such things.




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  3. Um, the improvements you mentioned were in the budget some years before the decision was finalized to move to Pyongtaek.

    The fact that the money was already budgeted shouldn’t be relevant if before the funds were spent, we learned that we would be moving the post. Funds can and should be reprogrammed when the needs of the Army change (example). Under the Federal Acquisition Regulation, the government reserves the right to terminate contracts for its own convenience.

    There are two unknowns in there. I can’t state with absolute certainty when, in the 4 years since mid-’02, we made the decision to leave Yongsan, or when the improvements reached the point of no return. A friend mentioned that the 121 renovation was more recent.

    My point here wasn’t to suggest that the Army doesn’t intend to leave Yongsan. I think it does. I’m simply stating that I would have expected to see signs of a drawdown and didn’t.




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  4. Joshua, that the money can/should be reprogrammed doesn’t mean they would be. More ot the point, it doesn’t really indicate that the move is not really going forward.

    Back in the 1990s, there was to be a move to someplace south, and it was heralded that the Garrison would be gone by 1996. Land was picked out, papers were signed, etc., etc., though it never got this far. Yet, ten years later, here everyone still is. Given that kind of track record (0-for-1), the folks at the 121 would be foolish not to prepare for the contingency that they’re NOT moving (also, and I’m not sure of this, many of the improvements to the 121 are in the form of transportable equipment or stuff that would be replaced per the terms of the deal—and the ROK government ends up with a nice newish hospital in the Yongsan area).

    I know directly that various groups are making their plans to move. It is going forward.




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  5. I think we’re in agreement that the Army intends to leave Yongsan, eventually. Where I think there’s room for doubt is the question of where the Army will go.

    It wouldn’t surprise me if the Koreans would come back to the U.S. side and ask to reduce the size of the expansion at Humphreys, which would mean a smaller USFK.

    Or, it could be a case of me thinking wishfully, as I obviously oppose keeing U.S. ground forces in Korea. I simply don’t see any U.S. interest their continued presence serves that approaches the costs and risks of keeping them there.




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  6. Don’t see any US interest for keeping US forces in Korea? Look accross the Yellow Sea… China is there, and the US is surrounding it with troops: Korea, Japan, Phillipines, Afghanistan, Pakistan… The US presence in Korea is not about Korea anymore, Washington has nothing to gain from a united Korea




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  7. The US presence in Korea is not about Korea anymore, Washington has nothing to gain from a united Korea

    You mean like reduced troop commitment in the Korean Peninsula, or on the opposite side, US forces on the Chinese border?




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  8. It won’t be long after Korea unites that the Korean government will start requesting that the US leaves the peninsula, then we will see massive troop reductions here. S Korea has to gain with US presence here due to perceived projection of American power in front of N Korea forces, US has to gain due to the fact that Korea is in China’s doorsteps. Once the NK threat is gone, why would S Korea need the US troops? I believe US doesn’t stand to gain with unification. That is why Washington is the biggest thing getting between Seoul and Pyongyang. If Bush hadn’t gotten on Kim Daejung’s way the unification would have been more forthcoming.




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  9. It won’t be long after Korea unites that the Korean government will start requesting that the US leaves the peninsula…

    Extremely unlikely; a) Korea will be cash strapped (and maybe in ruins, depending on how reunification occurs); b) Koreans will be paranoid about China and Japan infringing on their territory (while the U.S. has no potential designs to grab land), and; c.) the U.S. recognizes it’s presence – on the peninsula – is needed for continued stability.




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  10. I think what I said was that the costs and risks of keeping ground forces in Korea greatly outweigh the benefits of keeping them there. I’ve previously made my argument for that in great detail.

    I’m ambivalent about keeping US air and naval forces in the region, because the American people do not want to involve ground troops in another messy overseas war, and because our air and naval forces are much more politically and diplomatically efficient ways to project power abroad. Whether we ought to keep any forces in Korea, including air and naval forces, should depend on political and diplomatic developments. If the South Korean people continue to prefer moving toward neutrality — and inevitably, into the Chinese orbit — then I think keeping forces in South Korea is too risky for the protection of those forces.




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  11. If the South Korean people continue to prefer moving toward neutrality — and inevitably, into the Chinese orbit

    For the record, this is one of those few areas in which there is a disagreement among TKL contributors.

    I do not think that South Korea’s slide into a Chinese orbit is “inevitable.”

    The hubhub over the Gogureyo controversy suggests to me that there is a real chance of nationalistic backlash between the PRC and the ROK, should the two share borders. And should there be such tension, ROK population would suddenly rediscover the value of American friendship.

    But then the question becomes, will it be too late? Will the American public be so turned off by Korean dalliances with China up to that point that it would be unwilling to risk American forces to help Korea against China?

    American self-interest should dictate that answer, but as we all know, public sentiment and national self-interest do not always coincide.

    Food for thought for Korean policy makers.




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