Symposium INDEX

Japan Peace Conference 2006
International Symposium


Kang, Jeong Koo

Director of Research Institute for Peace and Reunification of Korea
Republic of Korea



The Expansion of the U. S. Military Base at Pyeongtaek and the "Second Sino-Japanese War"

The Korean peninsula as a whole, as well as North and South Korea as individual states, has suffered and been oppressed for more than sixty years, beginning with the US occupation in 1945 and thereafter from the US armed forces stationed in South Korea. One high-ranking US Forces in Korea (USFK) officer announced that the US has a plan to build the newly expanded military base at Pyeongtaek in South Korea so that it will endure as long as 100 years from now. If the expanded military base remains as planned, the Korean peninsula would mark a new record for station of foreign troops more than 160 years.

Of course, this will not only be a shameful record in our national history, but also it would violate international law, destroy the peace and permit the US to wage aggressive war not only on the peninsula, but through out Northeast Asia as well. Therefore, we peace-loving Koreans and other Northeast Asians cannot and will not bear with the presence of the US forces in Northeast Asia and in Korea in particular. I am pretty sure that we are all in the same boat in this sense, and that we all share this feeling.

The US Military Base Relocation and Expansion Against History

The turn of the 21st century marks the end of the Cold War in global terms and the beginning of peace and reunification on the Korean peninsula in local terms. In view of this historical trajectory, the US strategy and project envisioned by the GPR (Global Defense Posture Review) on the Korean peninsula and in Japan surely run against long-term historical trends.

Due to Korea's geographic position, as well as the remnants of the Cold War and the world-view that accompanied it in South Korea,1) South Korea was picked to play a key role in US strategy in the Asia-Pacific region. The US wants to transform its military's organizational structure and political mission, mainly for containing China.

In order to accommodate the transfer of so many troops and so much equipment and to provide the necessary facilities for the changing role of the US Forces Korea, the army base at Pyeongtaek known as Camp Humphreys will be enlarged to nearly three times its present size. More than 1000 hectares of farmland will be added to the present compound for the expansion. Current US military installations are scheduled to be consolidated into 13 larger facilities, centering around the cluster of current air, naval, and ground forces bases near Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul, and another cluster in the Taegu-Busan area in the southeastern part of the country.

The relocation and expansion cost is officially estimated at 5.5 billion US dollars. However, our organization (SPARK / Solidarity for Peace and Reunification of Korea) estimates that it will come to be somewhere around 10 billion, a financial burden which South Korea will have to bear in its entirety.

To accompany the relocation and expansion of the military base at Pyeongtaek, the United States pressured the South Korean government, forcing it to concur with the so-called "strategic flexibility" plan. This means that the US demands that South Korea bear the entire responsibility for all the costs, involving the division of responsibilities between the USFK and the Korean forces, the return of the war time military command (operational control) to Korea, a huge military buildup costing 15 billion US dollars for buying four airborne warning and control system (AWACS), three Aegis destroyers, 60 F-15K fighter planes, etc., and more financial contributions for the presence of US troops. In addition, the United States will spend as much as 11 billion dollars on the military buildup of the USFK.

Strategic Flexibility

In essence, the strategic flexibility of the USFK means that the US troops here are no longer bound by the conditions stipulated by the Mutual Defense Treaty between the Republic of Korea and the US: that they can fight only in a defensive posture and that their movements are restricted to the Korean peninsula.

As the strategic flexibility was granted early this year by the incumbent Roh regime, the USFK are now free to act aggressively, to take preemptive action against North Korea, China, or other perceived enemies, to intervene in other areas in the Asia-Pacific region, and to use the Korean peninsula as a staging base for launching US military adventures in other parts of the world.

Of course, this is a violation of the terms of the Mutual Defense Treaty and the peace article 4 of South Korea's own constitution. Therefore, President Roh resisted strongly in the beginning, but finally succumbed to US pressure.

Strategic Flexibility and Risk of the 'Second Sino-Japanese War'

We, the Koreans, have never forgotten the tragic Sino-Japanese War in 1894. At the beginning, China and Japan fought each other in neither Japanese nor Chinese territory but in Korean territory. As a result, our native soil was devastated not by our war, but by the war fought here by two powerful, violent neighbors. Several hundred thousand innocent Koreans were killed, mostly by the notorious Japanese imperialist armies.

Now that strategic flexibility has been granted to the USFK, we cannot be sure of preventing a repetition of the same kind of catastrophe in the 21st century. As is well known, the Taiwan government keeps pursuing its own sovereignty and independence from China. If Taiwan takes any practical steps toward realizing its aims of independence, Chinese anti-secession law would go into effect and China would prepare to take military action to reassert control over Taiwan by force. As the US and Japan have openly and repeatedly announced, such action on Chinaユs part would be followed by United States-Japanese military intervention. The next stage may be a tragic war between China and the US-Japan.

That would mean that the Korean peninsula would again become a Sino-Japanese war battlefield, as long as the USFK is still stationed here, and has been granted strategic flexibility. The US's first front-line outposts will be not Guam nor Hawaii but Pyeongtaek and Busan. The missiles targeting Beijing and Shanghai will be launched first not from the North American mainland but from South Korea and Japan. In retaliation, China would launch its first missiles not against Washington or New York but against Pyeongtaek in South Korea and Iwakuni-Zama-Yokota in Japan, the sites of the bases from which the US would fire its rockets against China.

Why should the innocent Korean peninsula be sacrificed to their war and why must the Koreans again fall victim to outsiders' battles, as happened in 1894?

The same will be true of the Japanese peace-loving friends. As long as US forces are stationed in Northeast Asia, we cannot eliminate the possibility of this terrible disaster.

We are the owners of our nation and we are entitled to work out own destiny. We peace-loving Asians are entitled to build an Asian community free from war threats originating from American and Japanese imperialism and the Cold War remnants.

Division of Role between the Korean Army and the USFK

So far the official claim has been that the USFK is stationed here to assist in the defense of South Korea from North Korean threats and the main responsibility of the defense is assumed by the USFK. However, there will a new division of roles between the Korean forces and the USFK. The latter will be relieved of their main responsibility of South Korean defense. Now they will serve as a rapid deployment force for potential military strikes far beyond the peninsula.

When the relocation and expansion are completed in 2009, South Korea's military forces will bear almost all responsibility for the nation's defense.2) In this situation, there will be no justification for the USFK to stay in South Korea. In spite of the uselessness of the USFK, the US still insists on keeping its forces in Korea, not to defend our country, but to use our homeland as a base for achieving their imperialist ambition, that is, for containing China.

No sane person can deny that the relocation and expansion of the military base at Pyeongtaek has nothing to do with South Korea's defense and everything to do with the US's strategic interest in perpetuating its hegemony in East Asia. Accordingly, it constitutes the roots of the threat to peace of both Korea and the entire Northeast Asian region. In view of this, it seems ridiculous and subservient for South Korea to grant to the United States the huge tract of productive farm land free of charge, to pay all the money for the base expansion and relocation, and to pay 2 billion US dollars annually for the continued presence of the USFK.

Return of Wartime Military Operational Control Authority to South Korea

The right to the military command (operational control) of South Korean forces has been seized by the US for the last 56 years and may be returned to South Korea in 2009 after nearly 60 years. This fact indicates that South Korea lacks an important component of full independence as a sovereign state. Thus, the return of military control authority will mean, at least symbolically, that South Korea has taken an important step toward assuming its rightful place in the community of nations as a genuinely independent country.

Notwithstanding the historical significance of such a symbolic act, the hysterical right-wing extremist groups prevailing in South Korea urge against it and constantly speak of their concern over the alleged friction between the two allies. They claim that the situation has deteriorated day by day under the Roh regime whereas the Japan-US military alliance has prospered and reached new heights.

In line with Washington's GPR and the desire to make its overseas forces rapidly deployable, the US-Japan road map for alliance reorganization was issued last year. Under the terms of this plan, the two nations are seeking to establish de facto unified alliance mechanisms to strengthen defense cooperation and capabilities. To promote closer operational coordination and improved interoperability, the US Forces in Japan (USFJ) and Japan's Self-Defense Forces (SDF) are set to collocate their military forces at major bases and set up a bilateral, joint and unified operations coordination center.

In spite of violating international law and disturbing the peace on the Korean peninsula and in Northeast Asia, the two allies justify it by saying that "the ongoing realignment of US forces in Japan is not only for the defense of Japan but also for the maintenance of international peace and security in the Far East" and by citing North Korea's missile threats.

In comparison, in the eyes of those South Korean right-wing extremist groups, Seoul and Washington are moving to disband their combined forces structure and create separate commands, with Seoul exercising independent control of its armed forces during wartime. This means that Japan is becoming the most important pillar of the security structure in the Asia-Pacific region.

In contrast, the progressive front suspects that the return of the military command to South Korea would not in fact assure South Korea's separate military control over its own armed forces as a sovereign state. Rather, after the supposed return of military operation control authority, Seoul will end up only with formal or de jure separate command and real or de facto unified command, as is the case with Japan. Moreover, the military commands of four countries (South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, US) will be unified into a real single military command, with the US at the helm, for targeting North Korea and China.

If we fail to prevent Washington from making a single unified command system covering four countries, I am greatly concerned about that we would eventually face more dangerous tiger by evading less dangerous wolf in relation to the return of the military command authority.

Unveiling of the Imagined North Korean Threats

It is claimed that the raisons d^etre for the presence of the USFK and the bilateral military alliance between South Korea and the US are the North Korean military threats, inferiority of the South's military power in comparison to the North's, the need to achieve a balance of power between the continental block (North Korea, China, Russia) and the maritime block (South Korea, Japan, US).

However, the three alleged reasons are not the real ones but imaginary and discredited pretexts. I will describe the real picture in brief.

In the era of the Cold War, there were three military (war) crises apart from the Korean War: the Pueblo spy ship scandal in 1968, EC-121 reconnaissance airplane scandal in 1969, and Panmunjom scandal in 1976. All these military9war) crises were initiated not by North Korea but by the US. In the last 17 years of the post-Cold War period, we had as many as at least seven times the number of military crises. They include the second Korean military crisis right after the Gulf War in 1992, Yongbyeon nuclear crisis in 1994, Kumchangri nuclear crisis in 1998, "axis of evil" crisis in 2003, two naval clashes near Yonpyong Island in 1999 and 2002, and Kilju crisis last year.

Five of these seven crises were deliberately initiated by the US whereas the two naval clashes occurred accidentally and unintentionally without the involvement of the US. South and North Korea were each responsible for one of the naval clash crises.

This fact clearly shows that the war initiator or warmonger on the Korean peninsula is neither South Korea nor North Korea. Rather, military crises and threats on the Korean peninsula come entirely from the USA. In conclusion, the military threats from North Korea are not real but imaginary and false. The traditional, established centers of power and remnants of Cold War politics in the US, South Korea, and Japan keep recycling this faked story without any pangs of conscience.

A simple comparison of military spending seems enough to test the alleged inferiority of South Korean forces to North Korean forces. In 2006, South Korea is spending 23.4 billion US dollars while North Korea spends 1.8 billion. North Korea's annual GDP is around 21 billion, which amounts to only 2-3% of South Korea's GDP. North Korea's total annual budget is around 10 billion dollars, which is less than half of South Koreaユs annual military budget.

Now let me turn to the power balance between the two blocks in the Far East. Again, a simple comparison of military budgets between the two blocks will illustrate the proposition. The maritime block's budget is about 500 billion US dollars (440 spent by the billion USA, 45 Japan, 23 South Korea) while that of the continental block is 62 billion US dollars (35 billion China, 25 billion Russia, 1.8 North Korea). This result shows no power balance at all but a ratio typically skewed in favor of the maritime block. We need to remove the US budget from the equation in order to achieve a real power balance in Far East -- that is, the complete withdrawal of the US forces from Northeast Asia.

Pyeongtaek and the Anti-Expansion Movement

The area which is being seized for the base expansion is land which the residents of Daechuri and Doduri reclaimed directly from the sea. The Daechuri villagers have already twice endured the expropriation of their homes and lands to make room for US military bases.

For the last few years, farmers who live in villages such as Daechuri and Doduri near the base have resisted the government's decision to cede the land to the US military. Supported by peace activists from all over South Korea, they have struggled desperately to save their farms and homes from the US military. In the process of this struggle, which has lasted for four years, at least ten people have died from the effects of stress and other illnesses. The majority of village residents are more than 60 years old.

Pressured by the US government, the ROK government caved in to US demands for more land for the expansion of Camp Humphreys and undertook to force the villagers to evacuate their homes and abandon their farms.

The residents and peace activists resorted to all manner of legal and peaceful means to oppose the seizure of land and the enlargement of the base, including petitions, demonstrations, rallies, press meetings, articles, research, conferences, marches, candlelight vigils, and appeals for international solidarity, all to no avail. The residents organized candlelight vigils every evening in the same place. On 9 November, they held the 800th vigil.

Not only the peace movement, but activists from the human rights movement, the environmental movement, and the cultural movement as well, have all banded together to support the farmers. Citizens have collected donations and sent them to the residents. The residents' tenacious and earnest struggle has been guided by the joint participation of other citizens. Young people, called "defenders", have gone to live in the empty houses abandoned by the residents. The resistance movement was doomed from the outset, since the US was determined at all costs to force the ROK government to yield to its demands.

The South Korean government used various means to persuade or force the villagers to give up the struggle to save their livelihoods. Under constant pressure from the US, the government finally resorted to the massive use of military and police force to eliminate the last remnants of the opposition movement. In early May 2006, thousands of troops, police, and private security contractors, as well as heavy construction equipment, were deployed against a gathering of a few hundred residents and peace activists. The military and police used violence to remove protesters from the disputed lands and surrounded the fields with kilometers of razor wire. The newly planted crops in the confiscated fields were uprooted, irrigation channels were filled in with cement and access roads were ripped up. The area was declared a closed military zone and hundreds of military and police were stationed round the clock to prevent farmers or peace activists from approaching the fields. Farmers who were unable to do their farming work because of the barbed wire suffered economic hardship and had to give the struggle and leave the village.

A school and other facilities that activists had been using as planning and organizing centers were destroyed to hinder further protest actions. Increasing pressure was applied to residents to compel them to move away. One by one, as families were forced out, their empty homes were also demolished. At present, the military and police are involved in what they plan to be a final effort to push out the last remaining villagers and crush any remaining opposition to the base expansion. Plans are already being put into effect to survey the seized fields and cover them with landfill, preparatory to the beginning of the massive construction projects that will convert the rice fields of Pyeongtaek into part of the largest US military base in East Asia.

Nevertheless, we will go on struggling with a firm belief and vision that the expansion and relocation of the US military base at Pyongtaek will never proceed and work out as they planned.

Solidarity for Peaceful Asia With Our Own Hands

In a sense, the history of Far East since the end of World War II has been the history of division and rule designed by the US imperialism. We peace-loving Koreans and Asians are no longer to be manipulated and distorted by cold war witch-hunt, with the US at the helm. Now it is high time for all of us to get together for peaceful Asia and World.

1) I myself became the victim of a communist witch-hunt, no doubt partly due to the combined evils of the right-wing hysteria currently sweeping South Korea, and that draconian piece of paper known as the National Security Law. The law makes it a crime to even possess a book about North Korea. I became notorious, as you probably know, for writing in a series of columns that the Korean War was a war of unification and of liberation fought by the common Korean people against the vestiges of former Japanese sympathizers and the newly arrived American imperial forces. As a result, in this age of heightened inter-Korean cooperation, I have been indicted under the provisions of the National Security Law for statements alleged to be pro-North Korean and I am temporarily suspended from my position as professor of sociology at Dongguk University. Last May the Seoul Central District Court passed a two-year suspended prison sentence against. I appealed against it and brought it to a higher court and the second trial is still going on.

2) In reality there are no threats from North Korea. South Korea will spend as much as 23.4 billion US dollars in 2006 whereas North Korea is spending less than 2 billion. South Korea ranks the 8th in military spending in the world.