Military bases and peace on the Korean peninsula

Oh Hye Ran

Translated by Agatha Haun and Choi De Song



1.  The US military bases in Korea.


Japan built a large number of bases in Korea, after it had forcibly annexed the country as a colony in 1910.

In 1945, at the time of liberation, the US military and Soviet military forces occupied the Korean peninsula.

These were the external conditions which prevented the establishment of a united country on the Korean peninsula.

The US-Soviet Cold War brought about the north-south division of Korea followed by the outbreak of war in 1950.

The Korean War came to an end with the conclusion of a cease-fire in 1953, but even so, no peace agreement was signed.

Today¡¦s workshop is all the more significant, because it is the 56th anniversary of the start of the Korean War.


In the process of cease-fire negotiations among North Korea, China, and the US, the problem of the withdrawal of foreign military forces arose.

However, just prior to the conclusion of the cease-fire negotiations, the US effected the signing of the Korea-US Mutual Defense Treaty, which provided the necessary authorization for the continued stationing of troops.

More than 60 years have passed since that time.

The US Forces in Korea benefit from a special status, which gives them immunity from punishment under Korean law for crimes that they commit.

For example, in 2002, north of Seoul, a US armored vehicle struck and killed two middle-school girls, but the military personnel responsible for their deaths were not punished by Korean law, because of the provisions of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the Republic of Korea and the US.

According to the provisions of the SOFA, military personnel who commit such offenses in the process of carrying out their official duties may not be punished.

At that time, tens of thousands of people joined in demonstrations to protest against this situation.

An investigation was made into the case of the girls¡¦ death and as a consequence of this case, some provisions of the SOFA were revised.

People demanded that President Bush officially apologize for the crimes committed by the US military personnel, but this demand was not met and the problem of the unequal SOFA has not yet been resolved.


The bases that were formerly used by the Japanese during the colonial period were enlarged and rebuilt by the US military.

The US military forcibly appropriated farmland without offering any kind of compensation to the residents, who were expelled from their homes to make room for the enlargement of the bases.

In this way the amount of land occupied by about 90 US military installations that existed in 2004 had grown to about 18 million square meters.

At present there are 31,000 US troops in South Korea.

However, the whole phenomenon of the USFK and their bases is still veiled in mystery to a great extent: the total actual area at the disposal of the US forces, including that represented by training grounds ¡V which are estimated to take up many more millions of square meters, the bases¡¦ function and role, the troop numbers, equipment, and armaments that are stationed here.  According to plans to relocate and reorganize US forces that are stationed overseas, the USFK bases are also being relocated.

The core of this plan, to reorganize and consolidate the US military bases that are presently scattered around the country, shifting them to the area in and around Pyeongtaek and the Daegu / Busan area, is the relocation of the 2nd Infantry Division, now stationed north of Seoul, and the 8th Army headquarters, now stationed at the Yongsan garrison in Seoul.

Moreover, the relocation plan is being pushed forward together with the transformation of the USFK, the strengthening of the ROK¡¦s military capability, strategic flexibility for the USFK, and the reorganization of the ROK-US military alliance.


In January 2006, at a meeting of the ROK and US foreign ministers, a joint statement was issued, referring to the authorization of strategic flexibility for the USFK and the reorganization of the ROK-US alliance.

The Korean and US authorities also concluded an agreement concerning the realignment of USFK bases through the terms of the Land Partnership Plan (LPP), the October 2004 Yongsan agreement, and the LPP revised agreement.

A secret research study on the ROK-US alliance, in which ROK and US national defense representatives are participating, will be concluded this year.

The schemes to increase military strength are being advanced: by 2008, the augmenting of USFK military strength will have cost $11 billion, and by 2020, 625 trillion won will have been invested in building up the ROK¡¦s military capacity.

As the USFK¡¦s role is being transformed, the ROK-US alliance¡¦s military command structure is also being explored.

The objective of the USFK realignment and the reorganization of the ROK-US alliance is to extend the range of the USFK¡¦s operations to the entire Asia-Pacific region, and the Korean armed forces are being mobilized for this.


2.  The US military bases at Pyeongtaek (K-6 and K-55)


Pyeongtaek is located about 70 kilometers southwest of the capital, Seoul.

In all, there are five military installations located at Pyeongtaek including Camp Humphreys (K-6), Osan Air Base (K-55), the CPX training ground, an artillery range, ammunition storage facilities, etc., taking up approximately a million square meters.


Camp Humphreys lies at a strategically important point alongside Pyeongtaek harbor, from which one can gain access to the Yellow Sea (West Sea) and the nearby ocean.

There have been military bases here since 1941, when the Japanese navy¡¦s 302nd detachment forced the residents out and constructed an air field.

The US Air Force came here in 1951 during the Korean War and quickly enlarged the air field, using heavy construction equipment.

They ordered the residents of the old village of Daechuri, which was near the air field, to move out.

The residents were not compensated in any way; their fields were seized by force and they were simply expelled.


Camp Humphreys¡¦ main function is logistics / supply and support of combat operations.

In 1996 the US 6th Army no. 3 zone support command headquarters was reorganized; about 4000 people are stationed there, among them 3100 military personnel, including an Apache combat helicopter unit, an armored regiment, a chemical weapons company, and a reconnaissance unit which gathers intelligence about North Korea.

The base is responsible for support services for USFK supply, maintenance, and repair operations, the storage of all conventional weapons within Korea, publication and training, etc.

The presence of the bases causes several kinds of serious damage.

For example, it influences the value of houses in the vicinity of the base which are affected by the noise and vibrations of the helicopters, and oil spills cause severe environmental pollution.



The US military who are working on the transformation of the USFK are spending about $10 million on reorganizing the 8th Army Corps¡¦ headquarters structure and the future structure of the 2nd Infantry Division, supplying them with equipment that can be used for precision strikes and long-distance military operations.

The 2nd Infantry Division, transformed into the 2-UE-x, has been reduced in troop numbers, but its combat capability has been very much enhanced.

The transformation of the 2nd Infantry Division is the first example of the reorganization of a ¡§future-type division¡¨ in the US armed forces.

When the transformed Yongsan garrison / 8th Army headquarters and the 2UE-x relocate to Camp Humphreys, Camp Humphreys and K-55 will perform the function of the main military operations base (MOB) for the purpose of launching a preemptive attack on North Korea and containing China.

For this purpose, the US plans to expand Camp Humphreys by about 1,200,000 square meters.

When the plan is completed, this will be the largest US army base overseas.


Osan Air Base (K-55), near to Camp Humphreys, was built in 1952 during the Korean War after the US military forced the local residents to move out and seized the land.

A total of 6000 people are stationed at K-55, including more than 5200 personnel in units such as the US 7th Air Force, the 51st combat aircraft corps, a Patriot missile unit, a U-2 airplane reconnaissance unit which conducts surveillance of North Korea, etc.

Water and noise pollution are serious problems in the vicinity of the base.

Airplane fuel flows into watercourses close to the base and the noise caused by aircraft disturbs the local residents.

A group of 4000~5000 residents of nearby villages are in the process of suing for compensation for the damages suffered.

The base houses 70 F-16 fighter-bombers belonging to the 7th Air Force, 20 A-10 anti-tank planes, and 3 U-2 reconnaissance planes, and has the capacity to support all-weather attack and aerial support operations.

The 3 U-2 reconnaissance planes take turns making one flight per day on sorties close to the cease-fire line at altitudes of 20 km, lasting 7~8 hours.

The surveillance takes in North Korean military movements and everything as far as 60-70 km north of the demilitarized zone, providing information on military facilities and headquarters around Pyeongyang, etc.

As needed, the Osan base will have the role of supporting the conduct of military operations of 1600 of the most modern types of aircraft that soon will be deployed in the continental US, Hawaii, Guam, Japan, and similar places.

On the Osan base, the Theater of Operations Air Force Control Center (TACC) is able to carry out countermeasures against all airborne objects including unidentified flying objects throughout North and South Korea, and of course, northeast China, and Russia¡¦s far eastern region.

The Central Air Defense Control Center (MCRC) operations can at a glance identify any airplane movements in the skies above the Korean peninsula, and dispatch an airplane to intercept other aircraft on command.

The US has a plan for the reorganization of the 7th Air Force as the Northeast Asia air force combat headquarters.

Already in 2004, the US ordered the 35th Air Force artillery brigade (Patriot missile brigade) to transfer from Ft. Bliss, Texas, to Osan Air Base, and the Osan base, along with K-6, came to perform the role of the central base for Northeast Asian military operations.

The Pyeongtaek area, with its harbor and airport, not only facilitates the projection of the USFK to other countries; it is also a location favorable for the dispatch of overseas US forces to Korea.


3.  The ROK-US alliance reorganization and the USFK realignment problem


The post-2001 September 11 altered US military strategy views China as a potential competitor and is constructing an encircling fence of bases to blockade China.

For the purpose of defending against the North Korean threat, the ROK-US alliance is also undergoing reorganization into an alliance to contain China and as an instrument for realizing the US¡¦s strategic objectives.

However, this kind of US military strategy will draw South Korea and Japan deep into the US¡¦s orbit and will function as a force which prevents the possibility of ending the Cold War, implementing the 6-15 joint declaration, changing North-South relations, bringing about peace and reunification on the Korean peninsula, and peace and coexistence in Northeast Asia.


Above all, the reorganization of the ROK-US alliance and the USFK realignment reinforces military pressure on North Korea, creates uncertainty about reconciliation, national security, and peace on the Korean peninsula.

If the USFK transfer to Pyeongtaek comes about, the US troops will be out of the range of North Korean artillery which is massed near the military demarcation line.

This kind of realignment increases the US military¡¦s capabilities, thus making it easier for the US to implement the Bush administration¡¦s preemptive strike doctrine.

Even if there is a full-scale preemptive strike, damage to the US military would be minimized and full-scale military operations could be put into effect.

Furthermore, it blocks the possibility of an attack on US military forces positioned on the front line in retaliation for precision bombing of North Korea¡¦s strategic positions, therefore it represents a genuine obstacle.

In the future, the reorganized ROK-US alliance will increase the US armed forces¡¦ capacity to intervene in China and the Asia-Pacific region and will accelerate the arms race and aggravate military confrontation between the US and Asia.

The USFK and the ROK¡¦s military capability, together with the ongoing ROK-US alliance reorganization, is amassing the largest concentration of military forces and arms in the world. Military confrontation will intensify the never-ending arms race and military antagonism in a radicalized Northeast Asia and bring with it a perpetual war crisis.

The US, Japan, and Taiwan are developing a missile defense system which would incapacitate the adversary¡¦s attacks, and are introducing the most advanced high-performance offensive weapons.

To confront this, China also is taking steps to strengthen its military capacity.

In order to counter the strengthening of the US-Japan alliance, China and Russia carried out joint military exercises in 2005.


4. Local residents¡¦ protest against the expansion of the U.S. military base.


In the area of Doduri and Daechuri near Pyeongtaek, in the area designated as the U.S. base expansion site, live 1372 villagers in 535 households. The Korean government began to purchase the villagers¡¦ land on the basis of the National Assembly¡¦s approval of the Yongsan agreement, LPP agreement. As around 100 households refused to sell their land, despite the government making a special law promising to compensate the local people for the loss of their land, it took over their land by declaring the area as a military facility protection zone and erecting barbed wire fences.


The local citizens, who have been evicted twice due to the military base, organized themselves in July 2003 and have been holding candlelight vigils every day since 1 September 2004. They protest with such simple messages as: ¡§Explain the reasons for expanding the base¡¨, ¡§We want to live in our hometown¡¨, ¡§We want to keep farming, ¡¨We don¡¦t want to sell our land¡¨, and ¡¨Stop

expanding the base¡¨.


The locals have undertaken various actions in an effort to persuade the National Assembly not to permit the land seizure, resisting the government¡¦s land purchasing by force, organizing a caravan of tractors around the country, and returning their residents¡¦ cards. They are well aware of the significance of their resistance, which lies in preventing the expansion of the USFK¡¦s role and the restructuring of the ROK-US alliance. Their campaign also aims not only to protect Korea¡¦s self-reliance and peace, as well as its cultural heritage, ecology and environment, but also to hinder the US¡¦s imperialistic war of aggression.


In February 2005, a nationwide organization was formed to oppose the enlargement of the Pyeongtaek base. The organization, known as the Pan-South Korea Solution Committee Against US Base Extension in Pyeongtaek includes around 140 civic groups from the peace, environmental, human rights, and anti-US base movements, as well as religious institutions.


They organized two peace marches in which approximately 10,000 people participated, in addition to three nationwide rallies. On 4-5 May 2006, the local citizens, supported by hundreds of peace activists, clashed with the Korean military forces, the police, and civilian security personnel, who set up barbed wire fences around the two villages. About 600 peace activists were arrested and around 20 of them were in jailed. More than 250 were injured. Villagers and peace activists continue their protest activities against the extension of the base by setting up tents or living in abandoned houses.


Supporters from outside the two villages donate money to help the local citizens continue with their farming. Artists have displayed their work on the Pyeongtaek theme, ranging from poems to paintings and sculpture in every corner of the villages, sending messages against the base expansion. Most Koreans are supporting the local citizens¡¦ struggle.


Demanding that the base expansion project be cancelled, the local citizens and the Pan-national Committee are urging the government to renegotiate with the US.


During the negotiations about the relocation of the American forces, the US pressured the Korean government in order to compel the Korean government to concede to America¡¦s demands. Under international law, signing a treaty under force is regarded as making the treaty invalid.


The National Assembly approved the agreement on expansion of the base in Pyeongtaek without revealing to the public that it is in line with the realignment of the USFK¡¦s role and the policy of strategic flexibility.


The US military plan to reduce the number of USFK troops by 12,500 by 2008, to be followed by further reductions. Therefore it may be expected that there will be excess military base capacity in 2008-2012 when actual relocation is completed.


Most importantly, the expansion of the Pyeongtaek base, as part of the USFK¡¦s strategic flexibility, must not utilized for pre-emptive attacks on North Korea and containing China. Forty two per cent of Koreans are against the idea of the USFK¡¦s strategic flexibility and 82 per cent of Koreans support the renegotiation of the agreement, if the base in Pyeongtaek is used for the USFK¡¦s involvement with overseas conflict.



5. SPARK¡¦s proposal for peace and unification on the Korean peninsula


(1) Abolition of the Korea-US Mutual Defense Treaty and dissolution of the ROK-US alliance


Korean peace activists, Korean and US government officials and military experts believe that the South Korean armed forces are superior to those of North Korea. The USFK has long since USFK become a superfluous armed force in the context of South Korea¡¦s ability to defend itself against an attack from the North. 


Now that peacekeeping efforts on the Korean peninsula have been successful to a certain degree, the ROK-US alliance should be dissolved and the ROK-US Mutual Defense Treaty should also be revoked, since they reflect Cold-War-era tensions and aim to deter an attack from the North, to trigger the collapse the Pyeongyang regime, and to occupy the territory of North Korea.


The ROK-US Mutual Defense Treaty and the documents attached to it (the text of minutes and memoranda) constitute an unequal treaty infringing upon the national sovereignty of the Republic of Korea and obstructing the reunification of the two halves of Korea.


The treaty allows the US to deploy its armed forces and military equipment on South Korean soil without paying for the costs of stationing the USFK. The US refuses to accept responsibility for cleaning up environmental damage caused by pollution generated by its military bases. It can interfere in South Korea¡¦s effort to achieve peaceful reunification. It regulates the size of the Korean armed forces and also controls the military operations. These are typical examples of the conditions of an unequal treaty.


SPARK members, like the majority of Koreans, believe that this kind of anachronistic ROK-US alliance should be terminated, by revoking the ROK-US Mutual Defense Treaty, in order to allow for the establishment of mutually beneficial ROK-US relations.



(2) Peace treaty and armament reductions on the Korean peninsula

The issue of the peace treaty, which was raised when the armistice came into effect in 1953, is not yet been resolved; no peace treaty has been signed. In 1954, the US, the Democratic People¡¦s Republic of Korea, the Republic of Korea, and China met in Geneva to conduct political negotiations that were supposed to lead to a peace treaty. However, the negotiations broke down due to the US¡¦s intention to guarantee that it could pursue its own project on the peninsula.


The US, having violated the armistice and increased its armed forces, declared that the armistice was invalid and brought nuclear warheads onto the peninsula. The South Korean president and most South Koreans consider the North¡¦s nuclear arms program as a means of defense against the threat of a US nuclear pre-emptive attack.


After a number of years, a joint statement was issued in Beijing in September 2005, regarding the North¡¦s nuclear program and a peace treaty on the Korean peninsula. The DPRK and the US were supposed to put the statement into effect by eliminating their nuclear arms, and the US was to abandon its antagonistic policy toward the Pyeongyang government and agree to establish normal diplomatic relations. The peace treaty could be concluded either among the US, the ROK and the DPRK, or among the US, the two Koreas, and China.


SPARK believes that peace in Northeast Asia will be achieved when the following issues are settled: a peace treaty, armaments reduction, the withdrawal of US forces from South Korea, and the establishment of a nuclear-weapons free zone on the peninsula.


The Korean people can achieve peaceful reunification on their own if the US does not interfere, and peace is established on the peninsula.