U.S., South Korea deliberate Yongsan Garrison move
Stars and Stripes June 18, 2003
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Once again, as they have for years, the U.S. military and South Korea are talking about the massive task of packing up and moving two major American commands.
Once again, they’re not talking about what it will take to actually make it happen: money.
On the table is the U.S.-South Korean agreement to move troops from Yongsan Garrison — a large, 630-acre post in the middle of Seoul — to Camp Humphreys in Pyongtaek.
The two governments agreed in 1990 that U.S. forces should leave Seoul by 1996. That agreement stipulated South Korea would shoulder the cost — a point over which negotiators agonized for two years.
Current officials have declined to provide cost estimates but Stars and Stripes archives quote officials in 1990 as saying the bill would be between $1 billion and $2 billion.
“It is certainly true the costs of moving Yongsan Garrison killed the effort 10 years ago,” said Bruce Bennett, a Korea expert with RAND Corp., a California-based nonprofit research institute. “But I have no knowledge of whether Korea will be asked to bear the entire cost or whether there will be some cost sharing.”
Under the status of forces agreement, South Korea is to pay for any movement of forces. But the time frame for such movement isn’t clear, said Patrick Garrett, an associate analyst at Global Security, a military think tank based in Alexandria, Va.
“If the U.S. does want to begin shifting forces in a short period of time,” Garrett said, “the South Koreans are going to have a hard time paying for it.”
Defense Ministry spokesman Lt. Col. Moon Jong-joo said no information about the move’s financing is available.
Under the plan’s first phase, South Korea’s government will start buying land in 2004.
2nd Infantry Division forces — now spread among many small posts north of Seoul — are to fold into Camp Red Cloud in Uijongbu and Camp Casey in Tongduchon.
In phase two, U.S. forces north of the Han River would move south. Studies are under way to what role U.S. forces can and should play on the peninsula, said Lt. Col. Steve Boylan, 8th Army public affairs officer.
“The idea of moving out of Yongsan is not a new one,” Boylan said. “How fast this will happen remains to be seen. Lots of things … can happen before things move.”
During Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz’s two-day visit earlier this month, the United States asked South Korea to increase its defense spending to at least 3 percent of its gross domestic product, said Rodger Baker, senior analyst and special operations director for Stratfor, a Texas-based think tank.
“One thing different about the current relocation plan,” Baker said, “is that this one is being pressed forward more by the United States than South Korea, as it fits in the overall global restructuring” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld contemplates for U.S. forces.
“Washington may foot some of the bill … as long as South Korea ensures it provides the necessary land for the expanded bases south,” Baker added.
Earlier this week, South Korean Defense Minister Cho Young-kil said the government aims eventually to increase military spending to 3.5 percent of the GDP. This year, defense spending was about $14.5 billion or 2.7 percent of South Korea’s GDP. Next year, the ministry wants defense spending to reach 3.2 percent of GDP.
Cho said Monday that U.S. and South Korean officials will meet monthly to discuss relocating the 2nd Infantry Division, so a plan could be drafted by his slated October meeting with Rumsfeld, according to a Defense Ministry statement.
Choe Song-won contributed to this report.