Symposium INDEX

Japan Peace Conference 2007
International Symposium


Ko You Kyoung

Bureau Chief, Campaign for Eradication of Crimes by U.S. Troops in Korea
Republic of Korea


Unites States Forces in South Korea


Negotiations over the transformation of US military forces in South Korea (USFK) began in 2000, in response to the U.S. demand for the global transformation of its foreign military bases. In March 2002, the US reached an agreement with South Korea on the Land Partnership Plan (LPP). After this first agreement, in December that year, the US and South Korean governments held their 34th annual Security Consultative Meeting and agreed on the promotion of the Future of the ROK-US Alliance Policy Initiative (FOTA). Accordingly, in October 2004, the two governments agreed on the redeployment of two US Army divisions and Yongsan Garrison from the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).

In compensation for the withdrawal, bases in western coastal area, including Pyeongtaek and Kunsan regions, neighboring China, are going to be strengthened and expanded. The USFK has been reduced to 25,000 from 37,000, but these newly aligned forces will be part of the US global military forces capable of fighting wars anywhere in the world. The US has been skillfully calling on the Korean government to pay for a large part of the transformation.

For the US, the purpose of the transformation is to build new military bases that would help achieve its military goals while returning outdated and contaminated ones to Korea. Therefore, the US military bases, returned or not returned, will continue to generate endless problems.

1. Transformation of USFK and Strategic Flexibility

While the negotiations that led to the 2004 agreement were taking place, various civil organizations raised concern on the nature of the planned US military transformation and criticized the Korean government for endorsing the plan. In short, under the plan, the USFK would be transformed into mobile forces and therefore function as Northeast Asian regional force that would even engage in pre-emptive strikes; it would no longer serve as traditional forces for the defense of the Korean Peninsula. But President Roh Moo-Hyun refused to recognize this changed character of the USFK. With the parliament ratification of the transformation agreement, the government expropriated lands and ownership rights from local residents and then officially agreed on the Strategic Flexibility of the USFK with the US government.

When the Strategic Flexibility agreement was announced in a joint statement by the US and ROK foreign ministers, it raised concern and debates over possible interference of the USFK in conflicts other than those perceived in the Korean Peninsula. Under the agreement, South Korea could find itself unintentionally involved in conflicts that may arise outside of the scope stipulated in the US-ROK Mutual Defense Treaty. Under the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) concluded based on the Defense Treaty, the USFK enjoys the use of Korean lands free of charge and has the ROK government pay the cost of its presence in the name of burden sharing. Therefore, if the US breached the treatyユs provision, ROK would no longer be legally responsible for paying for the lands and cost of US troops. But the both governments have been dodging the question. By agreeing on such matters in the form of a ministerial joint statement, not in the form of a treaty, our government has lost the constitutional right to hold the US responsible for violating people's rights guaranteed by the Korean Constitution.

The same concern was raised during the debate over the ratification of the Transformation Agreement of December 2004, which was eventually ratified without serious probe into the matter. The parliament succumbed to government pressure for an early settlement of national security and foreign policy matter as critical as this. In return for the ratification, the Parliament decided to hold public hearings to examine the questions raised, but no such hearing has been held after more than 3 years.

With the parliament's "approval", the government began the process of compulsory expropriation of the lands for new US bases. The expropriation process, which the parliament approved even without a Master Plan for it, has a number of problems as follows.

In November 2005, the United States demanded that the land level for the Pyeongtaek base should be elevated 2 to 3 meters higher for flood control. Despite the Korean explanation against such need since the levee was strong enough to hold back flood, the US insisted on the additional filling of 18 million cubic meters of earth (1.44 million loads of a 25-ton truck) at a cost of 500 billion Korean won. The Korean government accepted the demand and is now negotiating on the actual scale of the landfill.

According to the Master Plan for the Pyeongtaek base expansion, whose outline was finally made public in spring 2007, 523 acres out of the entire 2,850 acres for the additional base area has no plan for use. After all the high-handed expropriation of the lands from the locals, they are now saying that the part of the lands is not going to be used, and set aside as a safety zone. For the government, the parliament approval is merely a tool to legitimate its selfish project. It has offered no sufficient explanation in getting the approval, and shows no intention to hold the promised public hearings, which was the condition for the parliamentary approval.

The transformation of the USFK into a regional, swift mobile force means that the US-ROK alliance is going to be transformed into an alliance of invasion from the present alliance for the defense against North Korean aggression. The South Korean government has not only helped the US wars by sending in its troops to Afghanistan and Iraq, but also displaced the people of Daechuri and Doduri, its own people, out of their villages by using violence.

In 2004, the Korean government agreed on providing 2,957 acres of land to the US forces and consequently forcibly displaced the people of Pyeongtaek. After the agreement, however, additional land has been offered to the US. In Pyeongtaek, additional 462,800m2 of land has been bought for the reason of setting safety zones.

In Kunsan US air base, 2,019,000m2 of land for safety zones and another 909,000m2 for helicopter force are going to be provided to the US military. Local residents say they are seeing more ammunition depots built in the base premises near the local residential areas and the safety zones are being expanded. Placing hazardous materials near residential area and even expanding the scale of, with full knowledge of their danger, is a proof of defiance of public safety. Another plot of land is provided for 800-strong 2 helicopter battalions, whose presence will likely exacerbate the noise problem of the local people, who have already been suffering from the nose caused by fighter jets.

2. Environmental contamination of returned US bases

After confiscating the fertile land nurtured and tilled by local farmers, several decades later, the US returned the land with full of waste and contamination.

As part of the transformation plan, some 60 US military bases and exercise fields are due to be returned to South Korea by 2011. Of them, 29 bases and training fields, whose returning process were completed in April and June 2007, have been returned without any clean-up by the US.

According to the US-ROK SOFA revised in 2001 and the annex A to the agreement, before returning, a base is to go through a US-ROK joint environmental study and clean-up efforts by the US on the spots where contamination is found. The problem is, to what level the US is obliged to clean up, and whether our government could take any verification measures.

The Korean Ministry of Environment demanded that the clean-up work should be done according to Korean laws. The US instead argued for a standard called KISE, Known Imminent and Substantial Endangerment to Human Health, which is not worthy of being called a "standard". It is a quite selfish argument serving the U.S. side only, that there is no need for clean-up because the found contaminants in the soil and ground water pose no imminent and substantial danger to human health as no one lives there. According to opinion polls, as much as 80% of the public think the U.S. is responsible for the clean-up of the returned bases.

The U.S. then proposed to take additional measures in an effort to pacify the public sentiment it understood to be working against the U.S. Those 8 measures are: a) removal of underground oil tanks; b) removal of PCB-containing materials; c) clean-up of visible spills on transport routes and at hazardous/waste disposal sites; d) removal and disposal of lead and copper-contaminated soil from the impact areas within the small-arm firing ranges; e) disposal of unexploded shells on the surface of the firing ranges jointly operated by US and ROK forces; f) disposal of oil from the tanks and their removal; g) drainage and clean-up of wastewater of heaters and water-heating systems and separation of running water; and h) removal of cooling agents from air-conditioning systems. It also said it would remove other underground tanks, lead and copper-contaminated soil from the entire firing range, the floating oil for 6 months. The US unilaterally announced the clean-up plan without any consent of the Korean government and withdrew their security guards from the bases where the said 8 measures had been taken and completed.

The Environmental Ministry refused to acknowledge the unilateral notification of the plan because no consensus had been reached. But the Ministry of Defense has taken over the administrative authority of the bases, and now not US forces but South Korean forces are in charge of the base security.

The reason the U.S. unilaterally handed the administrative authority back to the Koreans is to save the security cost that amounts to as much as 400,000 dollars a month. For them, it is no use to spend money to guard the already closed bases. One estimate says that at least 100 billion won and possibly as much as 10 trillion won could cost to clean up the contamination left behind the returned sites. That is, the Korean people have to pay to clean up the mess made by the United States.

Some parliamentarians were greatly concerned of the contamination issue, and in June 2006, the Parliament Committee on Environment and Labor held a hearing on the policies on the returned US bases. As a result of on-site investigation and another investigation by the governmental sections in charge of negotiations, it was revealed that none of the US proposed measures had been taken and that the bases were returned in defiance of SOFA procedures. The hearing exposed the need of revising SOFA in a way that would ensure the clean-up by the United States with specified clean-up standards. Though more bases are scheduled to be returned after 2008, the Korean government has not even proposed a consultation with the U.S. for such revision of the SOFA.

3. Increase of serious crimes by USFK

The overall incidents of crimes committed by USFK are on the decline. Recently, the number has fallen even more since the reduction of 12,500 soldiers and military personnel as a result of the forces transformation. However, in the last 2 years, the number of serious crimes is at an all time high. More serious crimes with less number of soldiers is a grave situation, and we believe this has a lot to do with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, a serious consequence of the circulatory deployment of USFK in the framework of the Strategic Flexibility

On April 5, 2007, around 6 in the evening, private first class Feldmann (age 21) molested a woman in her 30s, who was with her child on the street of Chongdam-dong. He had been drinking from during the day with Sgt. Basel (age 23) in Konan district of Seoul. Sgt. Basel was arrested on site and taken to the police while Feldmann turned himself in after convinced by Basel on the phone, after initially running away from the site. He fell on his kneeユs to ask for pardon of the woman, who acknowledged his apology and said she would take no action against them. The two were released. But half an hour after the release, they tried to sexually assault another woman in a toilet of a building nearby. The two fled from the site but were soon arrested by the police. But they denied any wrongdoing: Feldmann said he did not go into the toilet in the building in the first place, while Basel admitted of going into the toilet but denied having attempted to sexually assault the woman, saying he only bumped into her and made her fall.

They were detained, prosecuted and sentenced to jail term. They appealed the case, and during the hearing Sgt. Basel defended himself on the ground of his suffering from PTSD caused by his participation in the Iraq war. He argued that he had been mentally shocked by seeing his close colleagues getting killed in front of his eyes during his one-year deployment and that he had been undergoing recovery treatment of alcoholism. He said he did not have the habit of even drinking before the war.

Same arguments were heard in the Kunsan case. At midnight of April 22 this year, private first class Martens (age 24) and Pfc. Carpenter (27) of the 8th Security Forces Squadron and an American civilian by the name of Chessbro (21) conspired to assault a taxi driver and steal his car, but they failed and fled. The three were arrested out of evidence found in the car, prosecuted, tried and sentenced to jail term. They have since appealed the case. They are suspected of committing other similar crimes of raiding cars before. Martens, who is charged of leading the crime, told the court that he was undergoing medical treatment for PTSD he suffered from the Iraq war. He even fainted when the first court sentenced him jail term.

It is a serious problem if what were said by these soldiers were true. It is a serious problem for the US to have mental patients remain in the military, especially to have them serve in its base abroad. How would it respond to criticism that this is nothing but an act of encouraging crimes? We will continue to see similar crimes if the present pattern of deploying soldiers back and forth between war zones and the Korean bases continues.

But this is the very program promoted by the US Department of Defense; training every brigade for swift deployment in a war zone. The US-ROK Strategic Flexibility and this circulatory deployment means the re-deployment of mentally sick soldiers back in Korean bases, and we can expect further increase of crimes. According to the U.S. military newspaper date June 26, the use of drug by USFK is also on the rise.

What are notable in the crimes by US soldiers are not only the sexual assault on women but also the frequent cases of robbery of taxi cabs. There are also cases of assault on people walking on the street. Let me name a few of such recent cases. There was an assault on a 67 year-old woman on January 14, this year by Private Ramirez (the 2nd Army Division, age 23), who has been sentenced to 4 years of jail term. On March 23, in Uijengbu, a taxi driver was assaulted and robbed by Pfc. Adams (age 21), who was sentenced to 3 years and 6 months in prison. The case has been appealed. And there was such cases of bizarre crimes as a robbery, property destruction and arson of a beauty parlor in Gwangam-dong district of Dongducheon on May 19. Investigation of mental conditions of USFK and necessary measures are called for.

4. Conclusion

The violent and criminal situation of areas where US forces are stationed "for world peace" stands exactly opposite to peace. People of these areas are deprived of their beloved lands, their communities destroyed and they are exposed to crimes and contamination. Their safety and peace are being threatened, not protected. Their tax-money is being spent to ensure stable presence of US forces, for construction of military buildings and buying weapons. And the training and use of weapons by U.S. military is driving local people to death. It is a vicious cycle indeed.

The US is seeking further integration of military forces and reinforcement of military alliances with the host countries. This is a serious challenge we face today. In South Korea, while a peace treaty with North Korea and the country's normalization of relationship with the US are being sought, vast amount of money is spent for defense through the build-up of the US-ROK alliance and the purchase of weapons. In Japan, the constitutional revision and further integration of Japanese and US military forces are being pursued. To stop our governments from working for the US military policies and prevent military build-up in Asia, peace movements in the region must speak in one voice and strengthen our work of solidarity.

Crimes by US forces and the militarization in accordance with US war policies are taking place in every country where U.S. troops are present. It is my earnest hope that our actions for peace and against war will be further strengthened beyond national and regional boundaries through exchanges and solidarity.