S. Korea defense minister aims to transform U.S. alliance
August 14, 2004
SEOUL — South Korea’s new defense minister wants to transform the military alliance between the United States and South Korea from one based primarily on mutual defense to one also encompassing political and cultural issues, he said Wednesday.
Yoon Hwang-ung, named to the post after his predecessor resigned in July, made the comments during an open meeting with top military leaders in Seoul.
“I will develop the South Korea-U.S. alliance into comprehensive, dynamic relations in the long term,” said Yoon, a former commander of the Republic of Korea Navy fleet, “after studying the future of the allies and their command systems.”
By that, Yoon said, he meant a relationship which considers political, economic, social and cultural factors, in addition to security concerns. Expanding the relationship, he said, might help quell some of the anti-American sentiments directed at the U.S. military in South Korea.
The moves would come as both nations are reassessing a relationship largely built on Cold War scenarios.
The Pentagon, in an effort to shape a more mobile and flexible force, plans to dramatically reshape its presence in South Korea. For the past 50 years, thousands of troops have been stationed on the peninsula, arrayed against North Korea. But in the last six months, U.S. officials have shaken up that arrangement, pulling a 2nd Infantry Division brigade out of Korea and into Iraq and announcing a proposal to reduce by one-third the number of U.S. servicemembers in South Korea.
Already under way is a long-term plan to move most U.S. troops away from the Demilitarized Zone to consolidated bases south of Seoul. Yongsan Garrison, headquarters to both U.S. Forces Korea and the 8th Army, is to be shuttered by 2008 and relocated south.
The U.S. plans have been debated hotly in South Korea. Some say the moves will leave a “security vacuum” during crucial negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear ambitions; others say the U.S. presence has been too large for too long, and that the reductions and realignment would be a positive step.
A South Korean dispatch of combat troops to Iraq — at the urging of the United States — is also widely unpopular with many young South Koreans.
On Wednesday, Yoon pledged to meet President Roh Moo-hyun’s 10-year goal of building a military capable of an independent defense of South Korea.
“To pursue the cooperative self-defense system, we will first build up a new defense capability focusing on anti-North Korea deterrence effects. Besides, we will maintain the Korea-U.S. alliance in a stable manner,” he said.