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Wednesday, April 09, 2003
 
U.S. Promises to Move Main Military Base From Seoul as Soon as Possible

For decades, the Yongsan Garrison in the heart of Seoul has been a symbol of the U.S.-South Korean military alliance forged during the 1950-1953 Korean War.

But the headquarters also has become a source of friction in recent years. Some South Koreans complain that U.S. forces occupy valuable real estate and sometimes cause trouble in nearby neighborhoods.

"Both the Republic of Korea side and the United States have decided that this is an issue that can't wait any longer for resolution," U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Lawless said after two days of talks with South Korean officials.


The Agonist brings to our attention this change of heart on the part of U.S. leadership. Although the military is currently engaged in a program to return a number of military facilities to South Korean control, relocation of the Yongsan Garrison was not on the table until a few months ago, because of the likely expense of moving and the difficulty of finding a replacement site. But there's a new urgency to the issue now.

One might be tempted to conclude that this is a gesture intended to improve U.S.-South Korean relations, which have lately been strained by differences on the issue of North Korea. I'm guessing it's something else entirely.

North Korea has an enough artillery pieces and missiles aimed directly at Seoul to completely destroy the city in a matter of hours. In the event of a U.S. attack, they would almost certainly be used. I'd bet we don't want to be in town when they are, and seeming to acquiesce to the desire of South Koreans to move the base provides us cover to get our people out of harm's way in preparation for a move against the North. What such a move would mean for the other residents of Seoul I leave as an excercise for the reader.