Beret lieutenant colonel, Gordon Cucullu is now an editorialist,
author and a popular speaker. Born into a military
family, he lived and served for more than thirteen years in East
Asia, including eight years in Korea. For his Special Forces
service in Vietnam he was awarded a Bronze Star, Vietnamese Cross
of Gallantry, and the Presidential Unit Commendation. After separation
from the Army, he worked on Korea and East Asian affairs at both
the Pentagon and Department of State as well as an executive
for General Electric in Korea. His first major non-fiction work,
at Birth: How North Korea became the Evil Twin, is
based in large part on his extensive experience in
Korea and East Asia as a governmental insider and businessman.
[go to Cucullu index]
Moving Troops from Korea...
[Gordon Cucullu] 6/14/04
Despite North Korea being appropriately named as a charter member
of the Axis of Evil, scant attention has been given to affairs
on the Korean Peninsula of late. Considering that we are fighting
two active low intensity wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that makes
sense. But it helps to remind that the interconnectivity that
we like to speak of in regard to the 21st century world applies
even more so to international terrorist organizations. The North
Korean link to al Qaeda and to various dictatorships exists and
poses a serious threat.
brags about its nuclear weapons development program, has peddled
missiles to miscreants including Iraq and Iran, and
has continually intimidated neighboring Japan and South Korea
threatening to turn them into ‘a sea of fire.’ So
why has Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld announced that a brigade
of infantryman from the 2nd Infantry Division stationed in South
Korea will be redeployed to Iraq?
At first glance it appears to be a potentially destabilizing
move. After all, US forces have been positioned in South Korea
since an armistice was reached to halt the bloody Korean War
in July 1953. At various times since then the US has moved or
spoken of moving troops. In 1971 President Richard Nixon moved
the 7th Infantry Division out of Korea, casing its colors and
reassigning troops to units fighting in Vietnam. That was done
without consultation with our Korean allies, and it caused severe
rumbles of discomfort.
Five years later in fall 1976, newly elected President Jimmy
Carter vowed to pull all remaining US ground forces out of South
Korea. At that time the rumble became an earthquake. Our South
Korean and regional allies wondered if America was abandoning
Asia. Since we had deserted our South Vietnamese allies only
a few months prior, in April 1975, allowing that country to fall
to the tender mercies of invading communist armies, the South
Koreans fretted that their turn might be next.
After Carter was finally dissuaded from the pullout which could
well have inadvertently given the green light for a new invasion,
it had become something of an article of strategic military faith
that US troop levels would be fixed and sacrosanct. So why do
we suppose that at this particular time reinforcements for Iraq
would come from South Korean-based units? Why not from Germany,
the Balkans or US-based units?
There may be more afoot with this action than simply satisfying
a need in Iraq. For months now the Department of Defense has
indicated that tactical conditions dictated redeployment of US
troops inside of South Korea. As anticipated, some questioned
the wisdom of moving the fighting elements of the 2nd Infantry
Division south of the Han River, back to a line well south of
Seoul. Would we forgo the critical deterrence characteristic
of a forward-deployed unit?
was provided personally by Rumsfeld when he spoke of vulnerability.
forward-deployed troops are under
the guns, literally, of a North Korean army heavy in artillery,
armor and short range missiles that is positioned to attack.
In his estimation the location of the 2nd ID would result in
an unacceptably heavy casualty level should the North Koreans
launch a surprise attack. Despite potentially heavy losses, the
Secretary thought, little would be gained. Therefore, he said,
it made good sense to move them to a position where they could
act as a ‘fire brigade,’ able to react to an attacking
enemy by riposting at his most vulnerable point.
in principle to many South Koreans, any change in the status
always generates a sense of discomfort and
unease. Korea could have been the origin of the expression ‘if
it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ Nevertheless,
even most thoughtful Koreans had to admit that the logic of the
redeployment was sound. But suddenly there is this new wrinkle:
the possibility of moving US combat troops out of South Korea,
something that has not been seriously discussed for almost 30
From a purely military standpoint the departure of a single
brigade - about 3,800 soldiers - from South Korea should not
materially change the situation. After all the South Korean army
is made up of almost 600,000 troops plus a solid reserve force.
Even though the North Koreans threaten with more than a million-man
army, the South has markedly better weapons systems, logistics
and infrastructure support. Though it would be rough sledding
with terrible losses, the South would win.
The only way the North could win would be through use of nuclear
weapons and that victory would be Pyrrhic. Even former President
Bill Clinton said that use of nuclear weapons would guarantee
the utter destruction of North Korea. We have every confidence
to believe that the Bush Administration would be tougher. So
can there more to this proposal than what we see on the surface?
In fact, the possible move of a combat brigade out of South
Korea carries a blunt message. Its last two presidents - Kim
Dae Jung and Roh Moo Hyun - have been increasingly accommodating
to North Korean with a so-called Sunshine Policy that appeases
and mollifies every North Korean complaint. These two administrations
have simultaneously cultivated and exploited anti-US sentiment
to their advantage. They have tried to position themselves as
if the conflict is between the US and North Korea and that they
are bystanders or mediators. Such a disingenuous attitude becomes
especially infuriating when the cynical, opportunistic reasons
for it come to the surface.
allege that Kim Dae Jung and his government were abysmally
corrupt, covertly funneling as much as $1.5 billion
to the North Koreans in order to bribe them to peace talks. The
talks were instrumental in Kim’s being awarded the Nobel
Peace Prize. It has been a huge scandal marked by mysterious
deaths of high level principals on both sides of the Demilitarized
Zone including one of the leading industrial magnates in the
South Korea. The continued ineptitude under Roh has made the
entire affair a sorry spectacle indeed.
Even if the US eventually decides to leave the brigade in South
Korea and ship troops to Iraq from elsewhere, the requisite discussions
with our South Korean allies will be an appropriate forum for
us to express our discontent. America needs to put a strong marker
down with the South Korean government that while we do not expect
or require adulation, neither will we tolerate our presence in
defense of their country to be exploited or taken for granted.
It could well be that the Bush Administration has grown weary
of being castigated and impugned by successive South Korean governments
using anti-American rhetoric to score points with a left-leaning
audience at home and abroad. The US may no longer accept a policy
that restricts our options. The decision - or perhaps the proposal
is more accurate at this point - to remove US soldiers from South
Korea may be a first strong signal that the dynamics of change
are at work in the Northeast Asia region. CRO
Gordon Cucullu 2004