- The Washington Times - Friday, September 29, 2000

HONOLULU Senior military officials say they are reviewing strategy to determine whether U.S. ground forces could be reduced or removed from Japan and South Korea without a loss of military power in the region.
Under such a plan, the United States would rely on warships, air power and rapidly deployable ground forces to maintain the American military presence in Asia.
Senior U.S. officials emphasized that no decisions have been made, as the examination is still under discussion among military leaders in the Pentagon, Pacific Command in Hawaii and U.S. Forces Korea in Seoul. They stressed the review was not intended to lessen U.S. security commitments in Asia.
Even so, a fundamental shift in the composition of U.S. forces in Asia is being contemplated over the next five or so years, officials said.
In statements released in recent months, U.S. officials have emphasized that there is no intention to remove U.S. forces from South Korea, and a Pentagon spokesman in Washington denied this week that any such re-evaluation was being conducted.
"There is no [Department of Defense] study or report that is reviewing the strategy of stationing U.S. ground forces in South Korea and Japan," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Terry Southerland, spokesman for Asia Pacific affairs.
However, a senior military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a review was being conducted in anticipation that the next president will want to consider U.S. military commitments overseas.
"We are going through this review to get ready for the new administration and for the QDR," the military official said.
He was referring to the Quadrennial Defense Review, a comprehensive examination of strategy, arms and readiness of U.S. armed forces that is mandated by Congress every four years.
The most recent review in 1997 committed the United States to maintain about 100,000 U.S. sailors and soldiers in Asia and the Pacific. The figure quickly became a political benchmark, especially in the region, to gauge the level of the nation's commitment.
Any public discussion by U.S. officials of reconsidering the 100,000 figure became taboo.
More recently, however, the U.S. Pacific Command has quietly stopped using that figure and instead has adopted the number 300,000 in reference to all forces under its control, not only in Asia but also on the U.S. West Coast, in Hawaii, Alaska and at sea throughout the region.
Recent talks between North and South Korea, including a first-ever summit, have prompted discussion of the long-term need for the 37,000 American forces now stationed in the South.
U.S. officials have consistently asserted that the troops would remain in the South to help ensure regional stability, even if the two Koreas were to reunite.
"Even if you had a reconciliation and eventually … a reunification, there still is the issue of America's forward presence and the peace and stability that we bring to the region," said Gen. Henry Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"Certainly, it could be reviewed, but I think it would be premature to say that I can foresee the day right now when we would necessarily want to reduce those forces," Gen. Shelton told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday.
The review described by senior military officials applies to forces in both South Korea and Japan, notably Okinawa, because Northeast Asia is considered an integrated operational area, even though U.S. troops are stationed in the two nations under separate security treaties.
The review is being undertaken in response to several converging events. U.S. military leaders have begun to realize that they must respond to protests in Korea and Japan against the presence of American forces.
"I don't think this is anti-Americanism so much as anti-base-ism," said a senior officer. "The Japanese and Koreans want their alliances with us, but they don't want our troops on their sovereign soil."
That warning was included in a study published this month by the National Intelligence Council in Washington, which concluded: "An unmoving U.S. stance on military bases and related issues would risk nationalistic backlash in Japan and perhaps South Korea."
In Seoul, Koreans have repeatedly protested around the headquarters of the U.S. forces, the site of a former Japanese military base around which the city has grown.
In Okinawa, memories are still fresh about the rape of a schoolgirl by two American servicemen five years ago. Surveys in both nations show public support for the stationing of U.S. forces has been dropping.
Whatever the outcome of the review, changes would be made only after consultation with the South Korean and Japanese governments.
Officials appeared to be mindful of the turmoil caused by President Carter, who declared in the election campaign of 1976 that he would remove U.S. ground forces from South Korea.
Seoul and Tokyo were alarmed that such a change would be made without first consulting them. Confronted with such resistance, plus that of the U.S. armed forces, Mr. Carter backed down.
The officials also said no changes would be made until China and North Korea, and perhaps other potential adversaries, understood that the American security commitment to Korea and Japan remained in place.
In particular, said one official, "We've got to get something from North Korea first."
That something would be a significant reduction in the threat to the South, including moving forces back from the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). About 70 percent of North Korea's army, including long-range artillery and rocket launchers, is stationed within a short distance of the DMZ.
North Korea also would be required to eliminate missiles that can reach U.S. forces as far away as Okinawa.
This is the first suggestion that U.S. ground forces in South Korea could become a bargaining chip in negotiations with North Korea. If the strategy were adopted, they could be reduced or withdrawn from South Korea in return for visible, verifiable reductions in the North Korean threat to South Korea and Japan.
Military officials said it would not be difficult to find new stations for the troops.
"We have plenty of places where we could put them," said one official. Alaska, Guam and other Pacific islands, Hawaii, and the U.S. West Coast might be home base for the Second Infantry Division in Korea.
Tanks, heavy equipment and artillery could be stored on ships or ashore in Korea in case the troops were required to return.
The Third Marine Expeditionary Force in Okinawa already has looked at a new base in northern Australia, where it would be close to Indonesia, the Philippines and the disputed waters of the South China Sea.
Another possibility would be northern Okinawa, which is relatively uninhabited and away from existing U.S. bases in densely populated southern Okinawa.
Under this scenario, joint mission forces of Army and Marine ground troops could be transported by air and sea and backed up with naval and air power comprising aircraft carriers, Air Force fighters and long-range bombers.
The troops could be drawn from bases anywhere, trained and dispatched on a mission. When it was over, they would go home again.

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