As has been widely reported
, South Korea just finished a presidential election in which it elected Roo Moo Hyun, a liberal candidate from the ruling party who favors gradual redeployment of U.S. forces out of Korea, revisions to the U.S./Korea Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), and other changes in the military relationship between America and South Korea.
He's sure to push for several things which have been discussed over the years - but never implemented. First among these will be a relocation of the U.S. Army's massive headquarters in the middle of Seoul. Yongsan Garrison is an affront to Korean sensitivities, as well as a strategically poor position for a headquarters. (It's within tactical artillery range of North Korea, for one) Korea and the U.S. haven't been able to reach an agreement on where to move it south of Seoul, or who would pay. The new President is likely to make this an issue, and get it done.
The corollary problem is what to do about the large U.S. presence throughout the rest of Korea. Few think that America will withdraw its combat troops north of Seoul, because their commitment serves as a visible and potent deterrent to North Korea. But the U.S. presence pervades the entire country, from the DMZ in the north to Pusan in the south. Much of this structure exists to support the 2nd Infantry Division in the north, and to support a corps-sized headquarters in Seoul. The bulk of the 37,000 U.S. troops in Korea are not combat soldiers - they're infrastructure to support an even larger force that would fall in on them in case of war. The time may have come to reduce this infrastructure; to downsize the U.S. presence to a more austere one, while maintaining the same combat capabilities.
The political pressure in the Korean population is sustained and real - it won't dissipate over the next several months. (Protest is like a national sport in Korea, and it usually heats up every summer, but this time appears different) Larger political and demographic shifts are underway in Korean society - the average Korean no longer sees the North as a significant threat, and thus is unwilling to put up with the size of the U.S. presence.
So here's where Don Vandergriff's ideas
(and those of Bob Krumm, Mark Lewis, and others) come in. What's one easy way to reduce the U.S. footprint in Korea while maintaining the same combat capability? Well, you could adopt a brigade-rotation model there with a Joint Task Force headquarters instead of the current model. Doing so would potentially solve a lot of problems. First, it would reduce the infrastructure footprint for U.S. forces, especially the logistical footprint. Hundreds -- if not thousands -- of U.S. personnel exist simply to support the institutions necessary for an individual-replacement system. Second, it would increase the unit-cohesion and combat-effectiveness of the deployed units, especially if you implemented an 18-month USMC/WestPac-style model for the trainup/deployment/recovery from this 6-month rotation.
Third, it would potentially solve some of the social issues of the Korean deployment. One "soft" problem in Korea is that individual soldiers deployed their for a year at a time often have tremendously high rates of family problems, alcohol problems, discipline problems, etc - many of which spill over off post and into the Korean community. Deployed BCTs could operate much more like they do in Bosnia, with less drinking and carousing and more training. Plus, their social networks would remain in Korea, so the old notion of "What happens in Korea stays in Korea" wouldn't apply. It's less likely that a deployed soldier would engage in drinking and whoring if he knows his buddies will go back with him.
Now may be the ideal time to implement a brigade-rotation model for Korea. The political situation is ripe for a change in the structure of U.S. forces which will reduce the American footprint and achieve higher levels of discipline among U.S. troops. Moreover, the world situation may require such a move. Eliminating the permanent U.S. footprint in Korea will free up thousands of active-duty combat soldiers that can be committed elsewhere, such as to fill units to 100% that are headed towards Iraq. And the brigade-rotation model will mean better unit cohesion, and consequently, better combat effectiveness. The Korea-rotation mission may be tailor-made for the National Guard's enhanced brigades, which would take a lot of strain off the active-duty force. Or it may remain an active-duty mission, like the rotations through Kuwait. Regardless, the transition of this mission from a permanent individual-replacement system to a unit-rotation model will have long-term positive results for the Army, and for the American relationship with South Korea.