Strategic Flexibility of USFK and South Korea’s Strategic Responses
Choi Jong-cheol (崔鍾澈)

Professor, Dean of Division of Military Studies
Korea National Defense University (國防大學校)


It is no exaggeration to say that the concept of strategic flexibility is central to the United States’ Global Defense Posture Review (GPR), which is closely related to its defense transformation program. Over the past half a century, flexibility has been shaping up as the key concept of the U.S. defense reform in almost all fields, including realignment and relocation of overseas U.S. military bases, joint operations, strategy, procurement, military personnel readjustment and forces modernization.
The concept of flexibility has been at the forefront of the new U.S. military strategies necessary for the country to adapt to changes in major strategic circumstances over the past half a century. The necessity for flexibility has always been at the root of major U.S. defense transformation, including a shift from President Dwight Eisenhower’s “massive retaliation strategy” to “flexible response strategy” and changes in war standards. U.S. war standard has undergone significant changes from John F. Kennedy’s “2+1/2 strategy” to Bill Clinton’s defense framework of two nearly simultaneous major theater wars, or MTWs, to President George W. Bush’s “1+1/2+1/2 strategy.” Until today, flexibility has overwhelmingly guided the U.S. strategic mind. In other words, the concept of flexibility has functioned as the prime engine for changes and adaptation of U.S. strategies.
U.S. strategists have persistently called for enhancing flexibility whenever the U.S. military posture needs to be reorganized in line with new strategic duties. They have also done so, whenever there were needs for military transformation in overcoming economic restraints on military modernization, coping with new types of threats and improving efficiency in wartime duty transformation, among others.
Historically, strategic flexibility was most notable in the era of flexible response strategy in the 1960s and again in the period between the 1990-91 Gulf War and today, which required the post-Cold War military strategy to deal with small-scale, low-intensity conflicts. The former period needed efforts to make a nuclear war an “unthinkable war” and new strategies to cope with the former Soviet Union whose military power grew to be on par with the United States.
The 1960s was a time when the U.S. hegemony resulting from its victory in the Second World War was being gradually transformed from an “imperial” style to a “liberal” one. By contrast, the post-Cold War era can be defined as a time when the United States was pursuing and formulating strategies to lead the “mono-polar” world in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, as reflected in its defense transformation (DT) and repositioning of its overseas troops. It was also a time when U.S. hegemony was unhesitatingly displaying its imperial characteristics.
The U.S. defense transformation and the GPR currently underway are far-reaching programs of the Bush-Rumsfeld team to restructure U.S. military forces overseas and build mobile, capability-based forces. The Bush-Rumsfeld team’s basic strategic mind is that the construction of a 21st century-oriented U.S. military power would be possible only when the Cold War inflexibility is eliminated and strategic flexibility is expanded. The team seems to conclude that the United States no longer has to stage a large-scale war against the now-defunct Soviet Union and its allies, while regarding U.S. preparations for simultaneous regional wars against Iraq and North Korea, for instance, as an inefficient war scenario. They believe that the United States needs to foster various strategies and military postures to be capable of carrying out a variety of wartime and peacetime tasks, including mainland defense, war theater intervention, expansion of alliances, peace operations, non-proliferation, anti-drug operations, asymmetric warfare and missile defense.
At the same time, the United States intends to reinforce its military posture to cope with various spectrums of wars and conflicts, which could include a full-scale war with a challenging China, local wars against a number of rogue states and transnational threats from non-state actors. To attain these strategic goals, Washington seems to believe that it has to pursue more flexible restructuring, realignment and operation of its military forces, rather than simply building up military forces.
In this context, the Bush administration is approaching the issue of restructuring U.S. Forces Korea (USFK), which includes its realignment within the Korean Peninsula and adjustment of its duties and roles, from the viewpoint of “strategic flexibility.” In the joint statements released after the annual Korea-U.S. Security Consultative Meetings in 2003 and 2004, the two countries agreed to hold close negotiations on the future role of USFK – its transformation into mobile forces, in particular. Republic of Korea (ROK) is South Korea’s official name. In addition, the South Korean government later declared its decision to endorse USFK’s transformation into regional mobile forces.
Since the onset of the post-Cold War era, U.S. strategists, security policy planners and security experts have contended that USFK is one of the most inflexible organizations among overseas U.S. forces and thus needs to undergo sweeping restructuring. USFK is regarded as having a very limited operational capability as it is primarily positioned as a deterrent against the North Korean military’s possible aggression. In the post-Cold War security environment, where unspecified numbers of new threats occur in unspecified areas, USFK troops training under existing scenarios limited to deterrence and defense against North Korea’s southbound aggression no longer conform to the mobility strategy that calls for “flow-in and flow-out” movement in any states and regions under a global network of facilities and equipment.
Meanwhile, South Korea has reacted to Washington’s effort to expand strategic flexibility for USFK in a forward-looking manner. Such a positive attitude stemmed from the judgment that South Korea is now capable of coping with any North Korean aggression somewhat independently thanks to its steady buildup of military power. The enhanced power has played a role in creating an environment in favor of expansion of USFK’s strategic flexibility. On top of that, the Roh Moo-hyun government’s initiatives to transform South Korea-U.S. military relations have brought forth the USFK flexibility question as the biggest bilateral security issue. The Roh government has called for putting South Korea and the United States on an equal footing in military relations by fundamentally reviewing South Korea’s excessive dependence on USFK, which dates back to the 1950-53 Korean War.
In this context, the joint statements released after the SCMs in 2003 and 2004 contained a clause reconfirming the sustained importance of strategic flexibility for USFK. But the two governments have yet to agree on concrete measures and contents for enhanced strategic flexibility for USFK. Moreover, they have yet to predict its impact on the overall military relations between South Korea and the United States, as well as on the duty and role of USFK.
Probably the U.S. defense transformation and GPR would be implemented simultaneously with South Korea’s “cooperative self-defense’’ policy, resulting in changes in USFK organization and bilateral military cooperation structure in three to five years. What is clear is that changes in USFK and South Korea-U.S. military relations, which are being pushed in accordance with the concept of strategic flexibility, will likely serve as an important momentum in opening a new chapter in the bilateral military history. On the basis of such introductory observations, this study aims to put forth a concept for South Korea’s strategic response to USFK’s enhanced strategic flexibility.

USFK’s Strategic Flexibility: South Korea’s Response Strategy

The USFK has undergone realignment four times since the end of the Korean War. But previous changes did not have as much political and historical significance or strategic implications as that which is currently taking place. The impact of the USFK’s increased flexibility is not limited to just the USFK itself. The USFK’s strategic flexibility question is to have great repercussions on inter-Korean relations and the regional security structure, as well as in the South Korea-U.S. alliance, South Korea’s security strategy and its defense posture. Therefore, South Korea’s response strategy will inevitably be much more far-reaching than expected.

The response strategy is double-tracked. One is “multi-purpose interconnection strategy” with regard to security, while the other is “interdependent engagement strategy towards the U.S.” in relation to military operations. The multi-purpose interconnection strategy calls for building a future-oriented South Korea-U.S. alliance, taking into consideration the responses of the four neighboring countries of China, Japan, Russia and North Korea, and the impact on the establishment of a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula, eventually leading to South Korea’s defense transformation. By contrast, the interdependent engagement strategy constitutes military strategic response to changes in the USFK’s role and mission.

Multi-purpose Interconnection Strategy

It is desirable that South Korea’s response to the USFK’s expanded flexibility should be pushed through the interconnection of the following four objectives:
The first objective should be establishing a new security strategy that is in line with the long-term vision of the South Korea-U.S. alliance. In other words, the alliance should be developed into a healthier and more future-oriented relationship through the expanded strategic flexibility of the USFK.
Second, our response should conform to the goal of reinforcing South Korea’s defense posture and further “Koreanizing” its security structure as the USFK realignment also offers an opportunity to reorganize South Korea’s national defense system.
Third, the realignment of the USFK is closely related to the realignment of U.S. Forces in Japan and will call for sensitive reactions from neighboring countries. Therefore, South Korea’s response should be based on close analyses of responses from China, Russia, Japan and North Korea.
Fourth, South Korea’s response should be connected to efforts to establish a sustained peace regime on the Korean Peninsula. This becomes necessary because North Korea’s sensitive response to the realignment of the USFK is certain to have a profound impact on inter-Korean relations and long-term prospects for peace on the peninsula.
The main pillar of South Korea’s response strategy is the maintenance of comprehensive cooperation with the United States, particularly in the area of military strategy. The USFK, which has been the axis of the South Korea-U.S. alliance and played a pivotal role as a deterrent against North Korean aggression, will assume a new role in the prevention, management and settlement of various regional disputes. That means changes in the characteristic of the alliance. In other words, the South Korea-U.S. alliance will no longer be restricted to the Korean Peninsula and will widen its scope of activity as an alliance with a regional role. A regional alliance means that the alliance will develop from one promoting mutual military interests alone into one in pursuit of more comprehensive bilateral benefits. Namely, the alliance will be readjusted into a cooperative partnership that protects mutual political and economic interests and value, in addition to mutual military interests.
South Korea and the United States have to share a common vision for the future of their alliance if they would seek to maintain it in spite of its changing characteristics and role. For that purpose, South Korea is required to accommodate a triple role model for the alliance.
First, the USFK has to assume dual roles as a deterrent against North Korea and as a problem solver/manager in regional conflicts until a peace regime is firmly established on the peninsula. The two countries should closely cooperate in the management of a crisis on the peninsula and in the formation of inter-Korean trust. Second, the two countries should jointly play leading roles in coping with transnational threats and in stabilizing a regional security structure in all of Northeast Asia, and should eventually take joint steps to create a new order in the region. Third, the two nations have to globalize their security partnership and display cooperative partnership in major global security disputes.
In implementing the future vision of the alliance, South Korea will naturally take the first model and then move on to the second and third models. If the peninsula enters into a phase of peaceful coexistence, however, the second model, or South Korea-U.S. partnership for peace and prosperity in Northeast Asia, will be given top priority.
A strategic response to the realignment of the USFK, in a broad sense, should be related to the reinforcement of South Korea’s self-defense capabilities rather than a narrow-sense response restricted to military contact between the two countries. Considering South Korea’s insufficient defense capabilities against North Korea, its effective response to the USFK troop cut and strategic changes should include measures to drastically reinforce its self-reliant defense posture. South Korea should even consider its own defense transformation, which must involve military strategy, strategic planning, military force planning, military structure and war command capabilities, as well as the securing of alternative forces for the USFK.
The scope of restructuring of South Korea’s defense posture related to the USFK realignment has to be very wide. Following the U.S. realignment, the South Korean military will be “nearly” entirely responsible for war deterrence and defense on the Korean Peninsula while South Korea will depend on the presence of the U.S. for its security in Northeast Asia. This situation will require the South Korean military to be reorganized into three-pronged forces. In other words, the South Korean military should expand its role by transforming itself into “strategic defense forces,” “general purpose forces,” and “peace and stability forces.”
South Korea will certainly need strategic defense forces to counter North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction and other strategic threats, as well as potential threats from neighboring countries. Of course, it is a long-term objective and will be closely related to reinforcements of air and naval forces. In this regard, South Korea may need to establish a strategic command operating midsize aircraft carriers, mid-to-large-scale submarines, mid-to-long-range ballistic missiles and long-distance fighters and bombers, including airborne early warning systems and in-flight tankers.
In preparation for regular warfare, South Korea is also confronted with a task of transforming general-purpose forces into state-of-the-art and informatized forces by means of a revolution in military affairs. In particular, another new worthwhile consideration in South Korea’s own defense transformation is to create the peace and stability forces aimed at beefing up the South Korean military’s international peacekeeping activities and managing and settling a variety of low-intensity disputes within the peninsula and along its coastal areas.
Demands for South Korea’s overseas peace and stability operations, like those being carried out by the Zaytun unit operating in Iraq, are expected to steadily rise in the future. The Zaytun (which means olive in Arabic) unit has been deployed in the northern Iraqi town of Irbil since late 2003 to help Iraq’s reconstruction efforts. In preparation, South Korea is required to overhaul its military power and devise relevant doctrines and tactics. At the same time, the peace and stability forces will be meaningful as a unit capable of systematically coping with small-scale emergency incidents, such as terrorist incidents and disputes within and without the peninsula.
On a broader scale, South Korea’s defense transformation related to the realignment of USFK should also address greater civilian control of the Defense Ministry and strengthening of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). Civilian control of the Defense Ministry is urgently needed to help improve the quality of the South Korean military and its defense planning capabilities. Elitism should be the key word in the future development of the South Korean military. In that case, South Korean military power will be determined by its quality, not by the number of its troops.
Without securing the best in its weapons system, equipment, combat training facilities, military housing and welfare, South Korea may find it difficult to transform its “strong” military into a “robust military.” To do so, government efforts should be focused on heightening public understanding of the necessity to increase the defense budget. Civilian bureaucrats of the Defense Ministry, not military officers and personnel, should lead such initiatives.
Civilian control of the Defense Ministry is also closely related to the expansion of JCS functions and capabilities. Capability improvement for JCS is urgently needed not only for an upgrade in operational and tactical capabilities, but also for an improvement in defense strategy planning capabilities. At present, ranking military officers at the Defense Ministry and JCS are responsible for defense strategy planning. If civilian control of the ministry is firmly established, however, JCS will inevitably have to enhance its defense planning capabilities.
It is necessary that the rotation period for South Korean officers dispatched to the ROK-U.S. Combined Forces Command should be shortened to help larger numbers of such Korean officers inherit American know-how in war planning capabilities. Third, South Korea has to carefully consider realignment of the U.S. Forces Japan (USFJ) and reactions from China, Russia and North Korea in mapping out its response to the expanded flexibility of the USFK.
Japan has been reacting to U.S. defense transformation and planned realignment of overseas U.S. troops within the framework of maintenance of deterrent, reduction in base-related financial burden and sustained stability of the East Asian region. In particular, Japan is concerned that a scaling down of the USFK would eventually have negative impacts on the future of the USFJ, weaken American deterrence on the Korean Peninsula and send a wrong message to North Korea about a U.S. withdrawal from South Korea. Japan is paying close attention to whether the South Korea-U.S. alliance would be revitalized or skeletonized in the wake of the realignment of the USFK. Aware that the status of the USFJ would be unstable without the USFK, Japan is formulating a strategy to strengthen its role in regional stability.
China views the realignment of the USFK as part of Washington’s scheme to reinforce its global hegemony and believes that the scaling down of the USFK would not alter the alliance between South Korea and the United States. China just seems to expect that South Korea would free itself from U.S. influence through the realignment of the USFK. Beijing’s primary interest lies in Washington’s strategic intentions and expanded role and activity scope of overseas U.S. troops, rather than their numerical changes.
Moreover, China is reacting with its own military transformation, out of its judgment that the realignment of the USFK is an extension of the U.S. containment policy towards China and will thus aggravate the Taiwan issue. In the end, such response and attitude from Beijing could result in China emerging as the origin of a Korean Peninsula security crisis. Meanwhile, Russia views NATO’s expansion in Europe as a much bigger threat than U.S. troops stationed in Northeast Asia.
Regarding China as the real threat in the region, Russia is more interested in maintaining stable, cooperative relations with the United States. It also believes that the U.S. troops in the region would function as a restraining force against China and Japan. From such a viewpoint, Russia has shown a reserved attitude on the realignment of the USFK and refrained from being deeply involved in Korean Peninsula affairs.
Pyongyang denounces the realignment of the USFK as a U.S. scheme to intensify its global hegemony, secure control of Northeast Asia and suffocate North Korea. The North Korean authorities also warn that the USFK realignment and expanded role would hamper inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation and trigger a fratricidal war. Pyongyang has countered Washington’s GPR towards the Korean Peninsula with calls for inter-Korean cooperation, resistance to America, withdrawal of U.S. troops from the peninsula, efforts to beef up asymmetrical military power and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
Lastly, South Korea has the task of moving one step closer to the establishment of a peace regime on the peninsula by producing a practical outcome in inter-Korean arms control. North Korea contends that the planned relocation of USFK troops to the south of the Han River that runs through Seoul is aimed at giving the U.S. freedom to attack the North by placing the USFK beyond the range of a direct counterattack from the North. But the southward movement of USFK will be a valuable preparatory measure that may lead to reductions or control of conventional arms, such as moving back or reducing North Korea’s artillery.
The door to an inter-Korean arms control and a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula could begin to open when North Korea understands the strategic meaning of the USFK’s southward relocation policy and simultaneously concludes that it may not be able to maintain its large-scale military force due to U.S. and international pressures, economic hardships and unstable domestic politics. Therefore, the realignment of the USFK should be pushed in the context of the systematic settlement of a sustained peace on the Korean Peninsula.

To sum up, South Korea needs to push ahead with the multi-purpose interconnection strategy that not only seeks to create the long-term structure of the South Korea-U.S. alliance, attain a cooperative self-reliant defense posture and establish a peace regime on the peninsula, but also considers possible responses from neighboring countries - China’s anti-U.S. hegemony steps and neutralization of the peninsula, Japan’s coordination and collaboration, Russia’s indifference and North Korea’s WMD reinforcement.

Interdependent Engagement Strategy toward the U.S.

1) Framework of Response Strategy
The increased strategic flexibility of the USFK is a result of the application of America’s defense transformation and GPR to the Korean Peninsula and USFK. USFK’s increased flexibility is an issue that should have far-reaching effects beyond the South Korea-U.S. alliance and South Korea’s defense posture and security strategy. In addition, the issue of expanding USFK’s role will have a ripple effect on inter-Korean relations and the security structure of the Northeast Asian region.
South Korea’s response should be an interdependent engagement strategy toward the U.S. based on sustained security and military cooperation with it. Through this strategy, South Korea needs to ensure that the present and future benefits accruing from its strategic engagement with the United States far exceeds losses, while the United States recognizes South Korea’s strategic value as well as the importance of South Korea’s security.
From this perspective there are a number of basic principles South Korea should observe as it negotiates on the increased strategic flexibility of USFK and its mission in Korea.
The first principle is that bilateral security cooperation between South Korea and the United States should be developed in a mutually beneficial and interdependent manner. It means that USFK will continue to be responsible for security and peace on the Korean Peninsula. At the same time, South Korea has to move away from its post Cold War position as a one-way recipient of U.S. security benefits. South Korea is also required to voluntarily cooperate and show interest in any U.S. request for security assistance and cooperation in times of both peace and emergency.
The second principle is that South Korea’s abandonment of its military autonomy in return for American contribution to South Korean security should no longer be allowed in bilateral relations. An asymmetrical alliance could be inevitable in South Korea’s security relationship with the United States, but a relation of dependency based on a “security-autonomy tradeoff” model should be entirely avoided. In other words, efforts should be made to elevate the South Korea-U.S. alliance to the level of “asymmetrical interdependence” now in place between the U.S. and Japan. Such a goal can be achieved when Seoul increases its role as a major middle power in the settlement of regional and global problems, which will allow something like a horizontal asymmetrical relation rather than a vertical one.
The third principle calls for a mechanism to prevent South Korea, while it pursues the status of a middle power, from being unintentionally mired in regional disputes involving the U.S., which will hamper the stability and unification on the Korean Peninsula. In an alliance, the “entrapment and abandonment” problem arising in the security-autonomy tradeoff relationship should never be overlooked.

Recently, there is a growing tendency for South Koreans to be more afraid of being ensnared in U.S.-involved disputes than being abandoned by the U.S. as their self-confident grows thanks to improved inter-Korean relations, economic growth and a rise of its international status. South Koreas dispatch of its Zaytun unit to Iraq reinforces such thinking. It is understandable that the South Korean people are concerned with their possible intervention in U.S.-involved disputes. But they should also keep in mind that the presence of USFK could be put under review – a shift to abandonment – in case South Koreans opposition to the existence of USFK escalates. They are reminded of the U.S. policy of not stationing its troops in foreign soil without political support from the host country.

2) Strategy Summary

South Korea, with its interdependent engagement strategy towards the U.S., should first distinguish USFK's basic mission from its expanded one as it copes with the U.S. force’s increased strategic flexibility. The basic mission of USFK is to stabilize the Korean Peninsula by means of defense and deterrents against North Korea, regardless of its transformation from an anti-North Korea deterrent force into a regional rapid deployment force. USFKs expanded duty includes dispute management and settlement in Northeast Asia or the Asia-Pacific region and various types of quick response activity for the sake of world peace. The priority order or the allotment of weight in USFK’s basic and expanded missions spanning from the promotion of peace on the Korean Peninsula to the stabilization of Northeast Asia and construction of world peace should be determined through bilateral Korea-U.S. negotiations, with high priority placed on situation changes on the Korean Peninsula. It means that USFK may take up the expanded role when the North Korean regime is normalized and inter-Korean relations enter into a phase of full-fledged mutual reconciliation and cooperation.
The second approach is to demand that Seoul and Washington share roles, responsibility and leadership in USFK’s execution of its basic and expanded duties. The redistribution calls for South Korea to play a leading role in maintaining security and building peace on the Korean Peninsula while the United States devotes itself to managing and resolving disputes in East Asia as well as in the vicinity of the peninsula. South Korea is also required to continue to provide bases and facilities for USFK and share defense costs. At the same time, South Korea and the U.S. should closely discuss the issue of responsibility sharing and take measures to solidify public support for the stationing of USFK through the revision of the Status of Forces Agreement.
Together with the issues of role and responsibility sharing, South Korea has to expand its leadership in problem settlement and profit sharing. It is similar to U.S.-Japan joint efforts for leadership sharing that began in 1980 and went into full swing in the 1990s. In case of emergency on the Korean Peninsula, for example, South Korea has to play a leading role throughout the peninsula, including the North Korean soil, and take the initiative in national unification.
To do so, Seoul needs to demand that is assumes greater leadership responsibility during peacetime joint operations with the USFK. In the same context, South Korea has to more actively participate in special joint operations with the U.S. or efforts to build multilateral security cooperation structure for regional peace and prosperity in Northeast Asia, within the scope of the “coalition of the willing” aimed at managing disputes outside the Korean Peninsula. By doing so, it will be able to demand leadership in proportion to its responsibility. The leadership sharing is also a very important issue in connection with South Korea’s efforts to increase its autonomy and make its U.S. alliance more symmetrical.
The third approach in South Korea’s interdependent engagement strategy towards the U.S. should involve the stationing of an appropriate number of USFK troops within the Korean Peninsula. Regarding the dispatch of troops from USFK, it is necessary for Seoul and Washington to agree to permanently station on the peninsula a certain portion of USFK, which will perform basic missions of defense and deterrence against North Korea. For instance, a third of USFK troops and equipment should be permanently stationed in South Korea as an anti-North Korea deterrent, another third allotted for major disputes or long-distance regional disputes for an extended period, while the last third take care of small-scale peace and stabilizing operations outside the peninsula or humanitarian operations. The anti-North Korean deterrent force should not be allowed to leave South Korea without the Seoul government’s approval. The second third of USFK should be allowed to relocate through mutual agreement, while the last third should be able to leave and return without Seoul’s approval.
The fourth approach calls for South Korea to secure a prior agreement on specific disputes or disputed areas that may involve USFK. In the event of international disputes that could involve South Korea or seriously affect its interests, like the China-Taiwan cross-strait conflict, the dispatch of USFK troops should require Korean consent through separate prior consultations. In addition, both parties should have consultations about USFK’s participation in disputes that are expected to impair the image of South Korea or USFK itself.
Referring to disputes within the peninsula and emergency in North Korea, South Korea and the United States should clearly divide their roles, with the former taking the initiative and the latter acting as a supporter. By doing so, South Korea can preempt a scenario where the United States moves into North Korea as a United Nations representative for stabilization operations in case of emergency in North Korea and South Korea loses the initiative in its reclamation of the northern territory.
Cross-strait conflict between China and Taiwan is very likely to drag South Korea into the dispute against its will as it could escalate into regional warfare in Northeast Asia, inviting the intervention of USFJ as well. Accordingly, South Korea and the U.S. are required to conduct a joint study on the scale and method of USFK’s participation in a cross-strait conflict.
While it is necessary to prepare measures to restrain U.S. intervention and role in case of emergency in North Korea and avoid South Korea’s involvement in China-Taiwan conflict, we should ensure that attempts to make such a prior arrangement would not weaken South Korea-U.S. security alliance or deter South Korea's efforts to increase its security autonomy.
The fifth approach involves an effort to build cooperative partnership relations for the settlement and management of global disputes. South Korea-U.S. cooperation in the management of global disputes will be a natural development at a time when the boundary of USFK is expanding across the world. The bilateral security cooperation on world stage may lead to a situation in which South Korean and USFK troops participate in the same dispute. In case of U.N.-initiated international peacekeeping activities, South Korean and American troops can operate together under the command of the U.N. But the South Korea-U.S. allied forces’ participation in the management and settlement of international disputes in the absence of a U.N. resolution should not be allowed except in special circumstances, considering its possible negative fallout in international society.
Lastly, South Korea and the U.S. need to solidify strategy and security consultations in order to ensure that the realignment of USFK would guarantee sound future of their alliance, promote balanced development of bilateral security relations, and contribute to peace and prosperity in Northeast Asia. One of the important devices to attain such goals is for the two countries to systemize “prior consultations” on the activities of USFK. Such a prior consultation system was established between the U.S. and Japan in the 1960s and can be used as a benchmark.

As measures to complement such a prior consultation system, defense ministers and JCS chiefs of both countries should regularly hold discussions and exchange information on USFKs activities as regional mobile forces at SCM and the Military Committee Meetings. The prior consultation mechanism would be meaningful as a symbolic measure for the symmetrical development of the South Korea-U.S. alliance.


The realignment of USFK is having a profound impact on the security strategies of the neighboring countries. It is a serious challenge to any country in Northeast Asia. Responses to such challenges will result in changes in the region’s power mechanism in the end.
In particular, China’s response is to unfold in the direction of intensifying the Sino-American power struggle, raising concerns about heightened instability in the Northeast Asian region. Furthermore, we cannot rule out the possibility of a sustained bipolarized power structure which pits the U.S.-Japan camp against the China-Russia-North Korea camp with South Korea sandwiched in between.
Thus, South Korea needs to embrace a multipurpose interdependent strategy which calls for pursuing interdependent engagement with the U.S., expanding multilateral security relations with neighboring countries, reinforcing self-reliant defense capabilities and striving to build a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula. In particular, we should utilize the ongoing research and consultations on the strategic flexibility of USFK as an opportunity to upgrade the South Korean military’s flexibility.
The uncertainty stemming from changes in global security environment or development of military technologies is not applied to U.S. military strategies and troops alone. Moreover, USFK’s changing role and status and subsequent changes in the South Korea-U.S. defense cooperation structure may force some changes in the South Korean military. At this juncture, we need to push for revision of South Korea’s military strategies, transformation of its command system, distribution of military power, and consolidation of its armed forces structure in a creative and innovative manner. The South Korean armed forces may be restructured to enable specialized operation of strategic defense forces, general-purpose forces and low-intensity dispute reaction forces.
Strategic flexibility in the process of the transformation of USFK is a very comprehensive and political issue. The Bush administration’s defense transformation is the third in U.S. history and the first in half a century. Its scope and future impact could be likened to a “military big bang.” Moreover, there still is no international consensus on global military threats while the uncertainty and instability reign over global security relations. Therefore, South Korea should make efforts to devise realistic and strategic responses with awareness that America’s Global Defense Posture Review, centered on expansion of USFK’s strategic flexibility, would have far-reaching impact on alliance relations, defense preparedness on the peninsula, regional security relations, proliferation of WMD and the development of the war on terrorism,

[National Strategy, Vol. 12, No. 1, Spring 2006 published by The Sejong Institute]