Update 1/10: The Korean reaction to General Bell’s push-back has actually ranged from the restrained (the leftist Hankyoreh picked up Yonhap’s coverage, quoted below, but had no editorial comment) to the rueful (the conservative Chosun Ilbo’s reporting focused blame on its own government):
A key U.S. military official handling Korea’s national security has voiced his discontent with an ally by using the word “fight”.
After the press conference, Korea’s Ministry of National Defense rushed to contain the situation by saying the U.S. military said later that the word “fight” meant “to work toward achieving a goal”. The level of communication between Korea and the U.S. has deteriorated to this low point, and understanding between the two countries has declined significantly. There are barbs in the words being uttered.
This is the result of the Korean government’s four-year efforts at achieving military “independence,” at the cost of damaging the Korea-U.S. alliance. The damaged alliance will cause our national security to be plagued with pains for a long time.
In other words, in Korea, you get more flies with vinegar than with honey. If you want flies, that is. Or a base at Camp Humphreys, which is an equally dubious acquisition (especially when we’re still stuck with most of the bill). But if we don’t want to spend the upcoming election year with targets on our backs, then we shouldn’t act like willing doormats for every cheap street-corner demagogue. If we act hostile and crazy enough, they may even treat us with some of the obsequious deference they’ve shown to China … or North Korea.
I’m not suggesting that our senior officials should engage in public debate with every poop-flinging OhMyNews columnist or stoop to the undignified levels I cite below, because that is not and should not be our style. I am suggesting that we should start holding the South Korean government, its ruling party, and its major candidates responsible for their cynical and manipulative words and actions, such as those I quote below, and overtly describe the very real connection between those words to the survival of the U.S.-Korean alliance.
Update 2, 1/10: As far as the cost-sharing story goes — that’s what Undersecretary Lawless was pissed about the last time I went to Congress — I will not even try to outdo the superb work of GI Korea. Pay special attention to South Korea’s whining about kicking in its agreed share of what you and I are contributing to its defense. Despite months of hardscrabble talks in which Korea agreed to pay just 44 percent of that cost, $886 million, it has since reneged on its word and will pay just $772 million, which is just 38%. At the same time, and in violation of two U.N. resolutions, South Korea has budgeted nearly a billion dollars for direct transfers to North Korea, knowing full well that much of it is probably used to fund Kim Jong Il’s military, WMD, and nuclear weapons programs.
Update 1/09 (Bumped Back Up): OK, It’s on.
The top U.S. military commander in South Korea said Friday that he would “fight” any move to delay the much-awaited relocation of U.S. forces to a base south of Seoul.
“I am opposed to any decision to stretch this out for any reasons, whether it’s political or it’s fiscal… or whatever it is,” Gen. B.B. Bell, commander of the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) told a news conference at his office at the Yongsan Garrison in Seoul.
He stressed that the expansion of Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, 70 km south of Seoul, should be completed by 2008 as scheduled.
Bell said the reports of a possible delay in the move of U.S. troops to Pyeongtaek was news to him and that he was very concerned about it.
The four-star general became emotional, saying U.S. soldiers here, who now total around 30,000, badly need new facilities to live in with their families for a “normal life.”
“We hope … that this consolidation effort corrects a wrong that we have tolerated for years, and that is lousy living conditions and lousy facilities,” he said. “I don’t want my families and my service members to live in those conditions. I want them to be normal. I am fairly emotional about this.”
He added that the deadline was fast approaching and he didn’t care if the problems were political or financial, saying “I will fight this (delay),” and urging the South Korean government to show its firm commitment to the project rather than being swayed by other conditions.
Over the Marmot’s Hole, Baduk offered his wise counsel to General Bell, suggesting that he choose his words more … diplomatically! Why, what a novel concept we’ve struck here! I wonder which Korean statesmen will follow Baduk’s lead first. A long list of qualified candidates comes to mind:
* Kim Won Ung, the unmedicated nutcase who holds a senior foreign policy post in the National Assembly, and who threatened to throw our Ambassador out of Korea, railed at Bell for suggesting that North Korean missiles could be viewed as a threat to the South, and even asserted territorial claims on Manchuria;
* Kim Dae Jung, who blamed America for North Korean nuke tests and urged other poliiticians to adopt the same fraudulent spin;
* Current Foreign Minister Song Min Soon: “[The United States] has fought more wars than any other nation in the history of its establishment and survival ….;
* “Comrade” Chung Dong-Young, who as UnFiction Minister, published this rambling, illogical, error-riddled screed accusing the U.S. of responsibility for Japan’s occupation of Korea, over a peace treaty it helped broker in 1904, and which won Teddy Roosevelt one of the first Nobel Peace Prizes;
* Chang Yong-Dal, the Uri representative and standing committee member who praised the 9/11/05 thugs who tried to tear down a statue of General MacArthur for their “deep ethnic purity” (the lead thug is now under arrest as a North Korean agent);
* Jung Chung-Rae, the pervy Uri rep who compared the USFK to unclean sperm;
* Presidential Candidate and Uri Leader Kim Geun Tae, who dances for the amusement of the North Koreans the week after they test a nuke; but declares an insult to national pride when the U.S. declares that it will actually implement UN Security Council Resolution 1718;
* Ex-Unification Minister Lee Jong-Seok: “The Bush administration of the U.S. is fundamentalist in nature, and it has been raising questions about drugs and human rights abuses since it took office.
I love debating the concept of “diplomacy” as applied to Korea, where that term has no coherent definition whatsoever. Retarded Chinese farmers spent the last decade renting out North Korean comfort women for six bucks a half hour while Ban Ki Moon’s “quiet diplomacy” played as soft background music. When the Chinese were done with them, they’d jab wires through the girls’ noses and lead them back to the firing squad, and Chung Dong-Young never took Kim Jong Il’s hydraulics out of his mouth long enough to say “hold your fire.
Then, there’s the other extreme, the one South Korea uses with its allies and trading partners. For the last few years, we’ve all enjoyed the spectacle of Korea’s “statesmen” in competition to make the most bellicose threat of hostilities over two guano sculptures in the Sea of Japan. Then, after years of bitter negotiations, fought to the last pyeong, and which will return 30,000 acres and a huge chunk of Seoul back to Korean control, Korea waits until a new SecDef is going through confirmation to float an obvious trial balloon about renegeing on that deal.
Daechu-ri would be family housing by now, and its former occupants would still be counting their generous compensation, had the ROK government bothered to offer it, and if it would actually enforce its own public order against violent thugs whose puppet-strings lead straight to Manyondae. Americans are awfully tired of the headache and expense that accompany the unique privilege of subsidizing a wealthy ex-ally. Forgive us for finally grasping that getting your way in Korea is all about having the loudest voice, the most inflexible position, and the most iron pipes.
Hey, it worked for Garry Trexler, didn’t it? Some may argue that being forthright with South Korea will only provoke them. On the contrary, I’d make the case that South Korea has been meekest and most compliant with those who who’ve been the most bellicose toward it. The best way to draw South Korean rage seems to be the use of polite and mature diplomacy.
Update 12/28: After a long, stony silence, Ambassador Vershbow offers the first public USG comment; scroll down.
Update: More here.
Original Post, 12/13: The Korean Defense Ministry is now saying that it may delay the move of U.S. Army forces out of Seoul and North Korean artillery range from 2008 to 2012. I tend to agree with what Richardson, GI Korea, and Robert Koehler say about this, and will refer you to their posts to the extent you haven’t already read them. Beyond my general agreement that 2008 clearly wasn’t going to happen, I’ll only add some observations that aren’t reduntant to theirs.
According to this AP piece, the KMD isn’t saying that the move will necessarily be delayed for all of five years, it only says that’s possible (no doubt, it would prefer ten). Note also how the KMD speaks for the United States, an extraordinarily hazardous thing when the alliance is in the state it is in now. If and when the United States government expresses its frustration or disagreement, this post will get its own sequence number in the “Death of an Alliance” series. For now, like the KMD, I’m waiting to see how Robert Gates reacts.
(Below: Some of the scattered and vulnerable posts we’ve left, or will soon leave. Those units not rotated back to the States are slated to go to Camp Humphreys, roughly midway between Seoul and Kongju. North Korean artillery can hit about half of Seoul, including Yongsan Garrison.)
Last April, using my reservist ID card, I went on post at Yongsan to take a last look around and some pictures of different places where I worked, or had other significant experiences, during my four years with the Army in Korea. I have no talent for photography, but I thought some of the pictures might interest future web-surfers as much as Neal Mishalov’s Korea pictures from the time of my birth interest me today. I did the same at Itaewon, although most of my pictures there featured alleged crime scenes for cases I either prosecuted or defended. I’ve been meaning to post a selection of the pictures for months now. I also talked with friends there who are still with USFK in some capacity. My impression: despite plenty of behind-the-scenes planning to move Yongsan, there is not the slightest external indication that Yongsan Garrison is going away. We’re still improving, building, renovating, and functioning to the same degree we were on my DEROS date in 2002. Like the neighborhood that surrounds it, Yongsan has changed significantly in the last four years. At the same time, the presence of a major U.S. Army garrison in Seoul is politically unsustainable.
Google Earth, which pictures just about half of Humphreys in high resolution, shows plenty of new buildings and much construction, but most of that was connected to the new PX, which was already planned before any deals were sealed on moving the USFK headquarters there.
I’ll conclude with two notes of caution: first, we have yet to hear from the Pentagon about this, which inclines me toward the view that the Koreans are pushing to see if we’ll push back. My second caution is that a delay in moving into Camp Humphreys does not mean, and should not mean, that we’re necessarily delaying a plan to move out of Yongsan. The fact that Humphreys won’t be ready by 2008 is in large part the fault of the Korean government for letting violent groups acting on orders from North Korea veto its policy decisions, decisions that were jointly agreed with its protector and supposed ally. Whether in fact or by design — the ruling party’s collaboration with some protest leaders would suggest the latter to some degree — both Koreas are now working together to keep Americans as hostages to North Korean artillery. That appears to be the result of a calculated effort by both Koreas to constrain U.S. options for dealing with Kim Jong Il. You can call that triangle of deception and betrayal many things, but “alliance” isn’t one of them. I’d call it another reason to move the soldiers to Fort Lewis.
Update 12/28: It’s starting to sound sorta like that:
The top U.S. envoy here has dismissed speculation that the delay in relocation of a U.S. base may affect the timeline for transfer of wartime operational control of South Korean forces from Washington to Seoul. “I don’t think that issue should be in any way linked to the transfer of operational control,” Ambassador Alexander Vershbow said late Wednesday in an interview with SBS television.
Earlier this month, citing technical difficulties, South Korea’s Defense Ministry said the main U.S. military base in the heart of Seoul will likely be moved outside the city by 2013, rather than by 2008 as previously agreed upon.
Vershbow said the transfer of wartime control is more likely linked to South Korea’s readiness to handle its troops on its own strength. “(It) depends on carrying out the necessary preparations of training so that the Korean armed forces are fully ready to take over operational control,” he said.