The U.S. Department of Defense announced on the 29th (local time) that it has completed the 2021 overseas station relocation review (GPR). The focus of the US military relocation strategy with the US withdrawn from Afghanistan is China. Reflecting this, the US Department of Defense mentioned the Indo-Pacific region first in the GPR. As a Chinese containment strategy, the priorities were to strengthen the military infrastructure in Guam and Australia, and to build military bases on the Pacific islands. The idea of constantly deploying the USFK Apache helicopter unit and artillery brigade as a ‘built-in force’ was also included as part of this strategy.
The Joe Biden administration’s GPR is in stark contrast to the policy stance of the Donald Trump administration, which insisted on an increase in defense cost-sharing, saying, “Allies around the world, including South Korea, must contribute more.” It is fortunate to remember the time when the US president took the lead in fostering rifts in the alliance. At a press conference on the afternoon of the same day, Deputy Defense Minister Mara Kalin confirmed that “there is no change (in the size of USFK).” When asked if there was any change in the policy of providing South Korea with a nuclear umbrella for deterring North Korea’s nuclear program, he answered, “I have nothing to say.” It was nothing like the ‘restoration’ of a strong alliance.
In September, the House Armed Services Committee passed amendments to the Fiscal Year 2022 Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This amendment stipulates a change in the role of USFK. It is said that “to deter aggression against the United States, its allies and partners, it is necessary to maintain a strong presence in South Korea.” This suggests that the role of USFK will be an important element of the Indo-Pacific strategy to contain China in deterring North Korean provocations. GPR is an extension of this strategy.
It is impossible to rule out the possibility that the Apache helicopter unit and artillery brigade of the USFK will be mobilized to contain China in case of emergency. In the sense that it is not easy to predict where the rapidly changing relationship between the US and China will develop, a decision may be made against the will of South Korea. Of course, it is not easy for USFK to conduct a military operation directly targeting China. However, one cannot help but keep in mind. Isn’t the two countries already aiming firearms on the Korean Peninsula 70 years ago? It is necessary to carefully examine the number of all possible cases of this new Cold War structure and establish a response strategy. Now is not the time to cling to the end-of-war declaration event, which is likely to widen the gap between the ROK-US alliance.
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