US garrison relocation starts to normalize alliance
The U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys, new home to the Eighth U.S. Army (EUSA), is like an upscale American town transplanted into Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul, accompanied by all the creature comforts. The bulk of its $15 billion tab for the largest U.S. base outside the United States was paid for by Korean taxpayers. When U.S. President Donald Trump visits Korea later this year, the real estate developer in him may regret not getting a piece of the action and could tempt him to eat his words _ he called Korea's contribution to the U.S. military presence "peanuts."
Besides, the relocation of the U.S. garrison from Yongsan in Seoul to its new location signifies a change in the ROK-U.S. alliance or, in a nutshell, alliance normalization.
First, its location at the Yongsan post, formerly used as Japan's imperial army headquarters, has posed a mental burden on Koreans. It is comparable to having a large foreign military presence in the heart of New York or Tokyo. That removed, Seoul's twisted urban development will be straightened out. A park a la New York's Central Park is planned.
Second, the relocation also means ROK forces virtually taking over ground defense north of Seoul.
The 2nd Infantry Division, the mainstay of the EUSA, will be phased out from its forward-deployed bases, and join the rest of the U.S. forces in Pyeongtaek. The exceptions are its artillery unit for multiple rocket launch systems (MRLS) and Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATMS), surface-to-surface missiles that target North Korea's artillery units, and a live-fire practice range.
It follows the disengagement of U.S. troops from frontline duties in the early 1990s, relieving them of their "tripwire" role of holding back invading North Korean forces until reinforcements arrive from the U.S.
The rearward deployment jibes with the Korean military's plan as confirmed during the recent Washington summit to promptly take over wartime control of its military from the U.S. At present if war breaks out, ROK troops are put under the direction of the U.S. commander as part of the joint forces.
There are challenges as well. Although bringing U.S. forces into one location is better for efficiency _ reducing supply lines and transportation costs, it was a concept developed in the early 2000s, ruling out the growing threat of North Korea's missiles. Back then, the biggest threat was long-range artillery and rocket launchers that fell short of Pyeongtaek. It also has to rely on low-tiered Patriot interceptors and a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery, an interceptor with a wider range, whose deployment is on hold. More people and hardware could be in peril as a result of the base integration.
Seoul is a big city that is always short of property to develop and expand. If Seoulites don't pay attention to and show the will to preserve the ecological park plan, it could turn into a plan to build pricy high-rise apartment complexes.
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