Sunday, June 8, 2003

Korea: U.S. troop pullback

Stronger deterrent

The Bush administration Thursday finalized a deal with South Korea to shift 37,000 U.S. troops away from the heavily armed border separating the South from the communist North. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld months ago began pushing to redeploy troops farther south to advance his worldwide strategy of preparing for a faster response to military threats.

The Iraq war showed Rumsfeld's fast, flexible strategy works. The United States needs to redeploy forces to adapt to shifting allegiances among our friends and foes - in Asia, the Mideast and Europe.

It's been 50 years since the Korean War cease-fire dictated that U.S. troops would be stationed along the 2.5-mile wide, 151-mile-long Demilitarized Zone as a "tripwire" to guarantee the United States would retaliate against an attack by North Korea. Rumsfeld argues that redeployment to "hub bases" south of Seoul will provide more of a deterrent, because in the event of an attack by the North's 1.1 million-troop Army, U.S. forces could respond at once instead of being forced to make a temporary pullback. Now, most of the 2nd Infantry Division, 8th U.S. Army and 7th U.S. Air Force are positioned in little better than a hostage situation within range of North Korean artillery.

The agreement, vetted during South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun's visit to Washington in mid-May, sets no quick time-table for the U.S. troop shift and commits U.S. forces to continued joint military exercises along the DMZ with South Korea's army of 560,000. South Korean opposition to the U.S. military presence in Seoul has grown in recent years. Redeployment farther south will help defuse the protests and should be speeded up.

North Korea's bellicose rulers led by the paranoid Kim Jong Il have made some conciliatory comments lately, but they show no sign of being willing to give up their nuclear weapons program. They pose a real threat to Japan and other peaceful states in the region. The United States should never again compromise its ability to retaliate by using U.S. troops as "human tripwires."

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