The Death of an Alliance, Part 62: South Korea’s Government (and North Korea’s Agents) Try to Veto USFK Restructuring

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.



  1. The delay was predictable but I think 2009 is a realistic date that would coincide with the handover of operational control. I have seen Koreans build entire cities in under two years much less building an expanded Camp Humphreys with over 2 years remaining. It may be ultimatum time, 2009 or else.


  2. I can see 2009 as being realistic, particularly if we get out of the business of using U.S. ground forces to defend South Korea. We should only have enough ground forces in Korea to defend a few big, consolidated installations and to provide such functions as command and control and ballistic missile defense.


  3. Any time the SK government makes a statement like this saying something is going to be delayed so long from the original date, it is an announcement that the SK gov. intends to stall whatever until it dies.

    This is how SK manages things with other govs. when it doesn’t want to do something. It isn’t just a US thing. They tried it with both China and Chile on trade issues.

    They have routinely done it with the US since day one. If you look back, the US was always pressuring SK to cut the number of troops it had, because US aid was usually pegged to the size of the SK military, and Park Chung Hee was a master at delay – on those reforms or democratic ones.

    The US Embassy was supposed to be moved by the late 1980s. Yongsan was supposed to be moved by the early to mid-1990s.

    Both of those are things Korean nationalism had been clammering for for a long time — the US Embassy location and history as a building used by the “Japanese Occupiers” and Yongsan with the same kind of talk — were used as good selling cards for anti-US thought to average Koreans.

    But the real reality was that the bulk of average SK don’t want to see anything that remotely hints that the US might actually leave (or Korean exports might actually not see in the US).

    This “Get out!!” — “Just not now…..” two-step Korean society has used for a long time is one of the more frustrating aspects of the alliance.


  4. I forgot —

    Richardson (and perhaps others too) were dead right when he pointed out that using the “violent protests” argument was a clear and bold faced lie.

    You can safely conclude, as I was about to do in my year end review at, that this year has been special due to the LACK OF PROTEST STRENGTH related to Pyongtaek and more.

    The only show that has gathered any steam has been on the FTA front.

    Pyongtaek had a good week of protests where 2 or 3 days were news worthy – and then it dropped off the face of the earth.

    And there has been no other issue or USFK military camp that has been the focus of prolonged, successful protests reaching a wide audience in South Korea.

    All my predictions about this being a turbulent year in SK for the US and USFK turned out highly, highly over-blown and off base.

    This year came with MAJOR opportunities for the anti-US groups to fight hard and grab public attention easily – but it never materialized.

    There is absolutely no way you can conclude the area around Pyongtaek has been so protest riddled that base construction must be delayed until 2013.

    Saying that was a huge tip off the SK government plans to kill this base expansion and Yongsan move.

    No question about it….


  5. Two points. First, I have always been amazed at how much construction we continue to do, both within and without CONUS, right up until we shut down bases. So the fact that construction projects continue is no bell-weather. Second, the level of protest strength could change quickly. What has been lacking over Pyongtaek are the gut-wrenching photos and widely propagated lies that followed in the wake of the two teenagers killed by a tank-carrier. That emotional propaganda machinery remains in place, and the will is there, but so far the gods of ugly protests have been good. That could change overnight.


  6. Hello all.

    The biggest problem with the Humphreys expansion land is its elevation. The S. Koreans basically have to level a mountain to raise the land above the 20 year flood plain. I’ve heard that it will take a truck-load of dirt every 30 seconds being dumped in the area over the course of a year to get there. After that, you’ve got to let it settle (that’s why they waited a year and a half after raising the land in front of the drive in gate to build two baseball diamonds and an associated parking lot…). Of course that number is from the rumor mill here at the hump.

    Yongsan is still getting better and better. Hospital renovations have been non stop since I got here in 2003…Humphreys hasn’t broken ground on a hospital. They continue to improve the support facilities and infrastructure. Humphreys, on the other hand, remains a half-assed attempt of fixing decades of neglect. The roads suck. The support facilities suck. The one bright spot is that power seems to be stable!

    The real solution is to relocated Yongsan (and the majority of US ground forces) to Ft. Lewis, Guam, or USFJ. USINKOREA is right. The Koreans are stalling in an effort to kill the draw down and relocation out of arty range. I don’t think they’ll be successful this time. They’ve publicly aired too much dirty laundry for the U.S. lawmakers to forget about. I wait anxiously for the US response to this crap…


  7. I was wondering: what ever happened to the answers to questions posed on the Chuck Downs piece that was run on TheKoreaLiberator. I never saw what became of that and was really interested in his responses. Thanks.


  8. I was wondering: what ever happened to the answers to questions posed on the Chuck Downs piece that was run on TheKoreaLiberator.

    I wonder, too. I’ll nag him gently the next time I see him.


  9. US should get the message and get the hell out. US presence in Korea has reached a diminishing return. It’s really time to try something new.


  10. If you pick a stray dog out of the ditch, feed it, wash it, protect it, and make it comfortable, happy and prosperous, it will never bite you, but will forever be a grateful and faithful companion. That is the difference between dogs and Koreans. That and the fact that Koreans would not only bite you, but would also eat the dog, and then turn around and blame you for abandoning a friend.

    –Mark Twain


  11. Hey Clemens,
    Is that quote from Mark Twain authentic? Could you cite it?
    It hits the nail on the head, as far as the Korean left goes.

    Oh, and Chi-town….
    The USA is and HAS tried to get out, but when the USA called Roh and the rest of the far lefts’ bluff, THEY BALKED!

    And you say that all Koreans really want is unification???
    No….. SK doesn’t want to pay for it.

    If the GNP doesn’t win elections, then the USA may let SK learn the wisdom of, “Be careful what you wish for because you just may get it.”


  12. No, it was modified from its original form. The original Twain quote said “a man” where I inserted “Koreans”. And the last sentence is completely made up.

    The tone of the quote actually sounds to me a lot more like Jack London than Mark Twain, and in fact we know London had plenty of opinions about both Koreans and dogs.

    At any rate, happy new year to all.


  13. Bell and the US are taking the right approach.

    Things like sending Colin Powell or the US ambassador or Rice to debate with civic groups and such is a fine enough idea, but it is not the way to get things down or spike down anti-US activity.

    Korean nationalism will lead the Korean government to delay to death any agreement either the gov or people or both don’t want. The best way to work against it is by forcing Korea to admit it understands what it will lose by damaging the alliance (whether military or economic).

    If the US has a beef with Korea, it should speak out loud about it. Korean society listens to it far more than it does apologies when the US does something wrong or “diplomatic” words on other issues. Those are generally considered as exposing a weakness and only bolsters the idea Korea should drag its feet to get what it wants.


  14. I was at Yongsan 69-70 and would like to see some old and modern photos. I can’t orient myself to the modern maps to find the old KMAG HQ.