Joshua Stanton over at One Free Korea has an article published in the New Ledger that I recommend everyone check out that is very timely considering USFK Commander General Walter Sharp had just commented about the transformation of USFK into KORCOM by 2012:
Because South Korea, now one the world’s wealthiest nations, expects up to 600,000 American soldiers to arrive protect it from any security contingency, successive South Korean governments actually cut their nation’s defense rather than modernizing it and building an effective independent defense. Consequently, South Korea still has a 1970-vintage force structure, designed to repel a 1970-vintage threat, equipped with 1970-vintage weapons. This is partly the legacy of ten years of leftist administrations, but it’s also the legacy of military welfare that allowed South Korea to defer upgrading its equipment, building a professional volunteer army, and organizing an effective reserve force to deal with security contingencies. Worst of all, South Korea diverted billions of dollars that should have been spent on modernizing its military into regime-sustaining aid to Kim Jong Il, to be used, as far as anyone knows, for nukes, missiles, artillery, and pretty much anything but infant formula. To this day, South Korea continues to resist accepting operational control over its own forces in the event of war.
The U.S. Army presence in Korea is an anachronism, defending against the extinct threat of a conventional North Korean invasion. The far greater danger is that if Kim Jong Il assesses our current president as weak, he will choose more limited or less conventional means to strike at our soldiers and their families. Given the reported presence of Taliban operatives in Seoul, he might even plausibly deny responsibility for an attack.
Thus, while I don’t go so far as to accept the Princess Bride Doctrine (”never get involved in a land war in Asia”), I do not believe it is wise for us to have our forces within easy artillery range of Kim Jong Il, such that he may freely choose the time, place, and manner of our involvement. [The New Ledger]
Click the link to read the rest of Joshua’s recommendations, but this topic has been getting increasing attention lately for whatever reason. As I have stated consistently, I do not advocate for the removal of US forces in Korea. The US military presence on the peninsula is too important for maintaining regional stability. The region has seen 60 years of stability for a reason and that is the US military presence. However, do we really need 28,000+ servicemembers on the peninsula?
The most obvious unit that I can think of that could best be used elsewhere is the remnants of the 2nd Infantry Division that remain in Korea. The division once had the mission of the being the tripwire that ensured US involvement in a 2nd Korean War. With the division scheduled to move to Camp Humphreys that will no longer be their mission, which begs the question; what is their mission then? The fire power the 2nd Infantry Division commands is miniscule compared to the size of the ROK Army; so the division will not make any difference in the outcome of a 2nd Korean War. What will make a difference in a 2nd Korean War is the United States’ air, naval, intel, and command & control assets. This is what needs to remain in Korea to keep a strong deterent in place to prevent any North Korean agression.
I think the US Army should take the approach of the US Marines and rotate soldiers to the peninsula for training exercises to maintain training cohesion with the ROK Army without having to leave a big force footprint. They could be housed at a small camp set up near the Korea Training Center for example. I think at some point it should also be explored closing Kunsan AFB once the ROK Air Force has reached a capability to off set what the US Air Force currently provides from Kunsan. There should be other capabilities looked at as well that the ROK military could take over in the future. That would leave the future KORCOM with military hubs around Camp Humphreys and Osan AFB with a force structure probably under 15,000. It just seems to me the cost savings would be huge not to mention the freeing up of thousands of soldiers to support other US military missions.
Maybe there is a sound reason for keeping 28,000+ troops on the peninsula but I haven’t seen it articulated yet. You can read more about the current USFK transformation plan here.
Please feel free to discuss your views on the future of USFK in the comments section.