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US Military Facilities: Korea

The United States returned a dozen military sites to South Korea in December 2020.Since their initial agreements decades ago, the agreement 11 December 2020 came amid concerns that further delay would dampen regional development efforts. Of the 12 bases returned some are plots of the Yongsan Garrison in Seoul. This is the first time that sites from Yongsan have been returned. Two parcels of the Garrison including the South Post are being returned and will be turned into a national park.

Also among the returned installations is Camp Kim in Seoul's Yongsan-gu district where the government said it planned to build a public housing complex to help tackle the chronic housing shortage. The returned installation in Jung-gu District, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Far East District would be used to build a specialized hospital for infectious diseases. Outside of Seoul, there are sites where local governments and residents have demanded their prompt return out of concern that further delays would harm public health and the environment and result in greater economic costs.

In total, a combined one-and-a-half million square meters of land has returned today. Although a first for Yongsan, this isn't the first time the U.S. has returned military sites to Korea. The two sides were still in consultations regarding the decontamination issue. An official from Seoul's defense ministry said future talks will go forward in establishing a mutually acceptable standard for the U.S. to shoulder some of the costs under the U.S. principle of KISE an acronym for the Known Imminent Substantial Endangerment to Human Health following the 201st joint committee meeting on the Status of Forces Agreement held via videoconference.

The two sides through SOFA agreed to come up with standards for joint environmental surveys and to make improvements in the survey and reporting process in case of contamination. So far, the Korean government had finished decontaminating 24 returned U.S. bases at a cost of over 200 million U.S. dollars. Another 90 million dollars was spent to clean up three of the four bases that were returned in 2019. The allies continued this year to conduct surveys to determine the costs of decontaminating the rest of them.

Seoul said it will decontaminate U.S. military sites that will be returned to South Korea even before concluding discussions with Washington on which side will take responsibility for cleaning up contamination if necessary and how much cost they will shoulder for such efforts. A senior official at the South Korean government relayed the stance on Friday, hours after the U.S. agreed to return 12 bases used by the American military, including sections of Yongsan Garrison in central Seoul. The official said swift clean-ups of the base sites may be necessary to protect the public's health, but ensured that the two allies will continue talks on related responsibility and costs.

Regarding when the entire Yongsan Garrison will be returned, the official said it is too early to say, linking the matter to the remaining project to relocate the rest of the base to Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province. The official said the return of the base will be completed only when the relocation project is finished, but made sure the government will closely discuss the matter with the U.S. so the issue will not disrupt Seouls plan to build a public park in the Yongsan site. The Yongsan sections the U.S. agreed to return only account for 2.6 percent of the overall grounds.

In 2004 the Congressional Budget Office released a report on alternative basing structures for US forces abroad, primarily those stationed in Germany and Korea. On suggestion was to consolidate bases in both countries and establish forward deployment facilities in new NATO members and other friendly nations in Eastern Europe. This alternative would go farther in reducing the footprint of US forces in Germany and South Korea and potentially speeding deployment of Army forces in Europe to likely trouble spots. Rather than closing roughly one-quarter of the 80 Army bases in South Korea, this option would consolidate all US forces in that country at 2 large installations south of Seoul, according to the LPP. Rather than rotate combat forces to temporary forward bases in Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria, this option would establish 3 permanent bases in those countries and relocate a Brigade Combat Team (about 4,000 soldiers) from Germany to each one.

Because the new bases in Eastern Europe would host soldiers on 1 year unaccompanied tours, they would not have to be as elaborate as the bases that now house US soldiers in Germany. Nevertheless, this option would entail a net up-front investment of $2.9 billion to $5.0 billion to build new bases in Eastern Europe and South Korea and move units to them.

Once implemented, this alternative would cost only about $25 million more each year than current basing and would have several advantages. It would speed deployments to the Mediterranean and Caspian regions, make US forces in South Korea less vulnerable to North Korean artillery or to being overrun during a North Korean attack, close many isolated and obsolete facilities in South Korea, and make it feasible to increase the share of accompanied Army tours in that country from the existing level of 10 percent (2,800 soldiers) to 25 percent (7,000 soldiers). However, because 12,000 Army personnel would serve 1 year unaccompanied tours in Eastern Europe rather than 3 year accompanied tours in Germany, the total number of unaccompanied tours worldwide would rise under this option, increasing family separation and annual turnover in CONUS units.

One of the major arguements by officials of the George W. Bush administration at the time had been whether US forces stationed primarily in Germany and South Korea were positioned appropriately to respond to probable future conflicts. They argued that conflicts are much more likely to occur in Africa, Western Asia, or the Middle East than anywhere in Western Europe. Similarly, conflicts could occur in Asia at locations other than on the Korean Peninsula. The age of facilities and general quality of life issues for US forces stationed in Korea were seen as issues that could be addressed more actively as part of the drawdown envisioned in the LPP as well.

In late 2004 the Land Partnership Plan was ammended, with various additional faciltiies being added to the original grouping. These included the Eighth United States Army Retreat Center (EUSA Retreat Center), Camp Coiner, Camp Gray, Camp Kim, Camp Morse, US Army Corps of Engineers Far East District Compound (FED Compound), Hannam Village and Niblo Barracks, Sungnam Golf Course, TMP Compound, Seobingo, Yongsan Garrison's Main and South posts, and an unnamed United States compound. The bulk of these transfers were supposed to be complete by 2008.

In the end the United States actually closed and returned Camp Bonifas and Camp Liberty Bell to the ROK in 2004. Also closed, but not immediately returned to the ROK were Camp Edwards, Camp Gary Owen, Camp Greaves, Camp Giant, Camp Howze, and Camp Stanton, in the area around Paju. These camps were turned over to the ROK in 2005.

In 2005 the US also closed Camp Page in Chuncheon, Camp Falling Water, Camp LaGuardia, and Camp Sears in Uijeongbu, Camp Nimble in Dongducheon, Camp McNab in Chejudo, and the UNC Compound in Seoul. Camp Page was returned to the ROK in 2005, with the rest planned to be formally handed over to the ROK in 2006. The closing of Camp LaGuardia led to the movement of the Department of Public Works to Camp Stanley.

The ROK had also been reticent to accept closed facilities, especially under pressure from citizen groups and local authorities who protested and demanded full scale enviornmental cleanups of the facilities at cost to the United States government. This not being in the wording of the either the original LPP documents or subsequent ammendments, the ROK shelved its complaints in the middle of 2006. They announced they would accept Camps Howze, Camp Stanton, Camp Giant, Camp Greaves, Camp LaGuardia, Camp Nimble, Camp McNab, Camp Colburn, Camp Bonifas, Freedom Bridge at the DMZ, the US-controlled United Nations Compound also at the DMZ, CPX-AI firing range, Charlie Block, Koon-Ni Range and the US military office at Seoul Station. These facilities had all effectively closed prior to July 2006 when the ROK government announced it would accept them.

In late 2006 the United States Army began other preparatory moves. The Warrior Readiness Center and Central Issue Facility were moved from Camp Mobile, scheduled to close in 2008, to Camp Stanley.

In 2007, the ROK government announced it would pay the costs to clean up the sites acquired in 2006 from the United States, a compromise solution to public demands for such action. The issue over the Koon-ni range was especially problematic. The training area at Koon-ni had been exclusively used by the USAF until it halted operations in 2005 as part of an agreement with the ROK government. The agreement also entailed a requirement that the ROK government provide alternative training areas. The replacement site at Chik-do and the availability of the ROKAF range at Pilsung to the USAF were accepted, but provided a far reduced capability. Local authorites in Kunsan, who maintained authority over Chik-do also resisted the expansion of the training area there to make up for the loss of the electronic scoring system at Koon-ni. Only after the promise of an ROK government aid package did the authorities in Kunsan relent, but continued to maintain authority over the status of the facility, opening up the potential for future negotiations.

The U.S. Forces Korea(USFK) opened its new headquarters in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province on 29 July 2018. The relocation from Yongsan in central Seoul came 73 years after the USFK headquarters were first stationed in South Korea. A ceremony was held to mark the opening of Camp Humphreys, located about 70 kilometers south of the capital. Some 300 people attended the event, including Defense Minister Song Young-moo and USFK commander Gen. Vincent Brooks.

This is the largest overseas U.S. base in the world, currently accommodating some 23,000, including U.S. military officials and their families,.. and the base is expected to grow to some 45,000 people by 2022. The construction broke ground in November 2007 after the project launched in 2003 to create a better environment for the stationed American troops by consolidating US bases scattered across the country. The Pyeongtaek complex can accommodate a total of 45,000 people including servicemen and women, their families and civilian personnel. In a congratulatory message read out by his security aide Lee Sang-chul, President Moon Jae-in expressed hope that through the opening of a new era in Pyeongtaek, the bilateral alliance will advance from its current comprehensive, military alliance into an even greater one.

With the relocation, the United Nations Command and US Forces Korea were leaving Yongsan, their home for the past six decades, and plan to complete their move to Camp Humphreys, by the end of 2018. Meanwhile, the ROK-US Combined Forces Command will relocate to a building inside South Korea's defense ministry in central Seoul by the end of 2018.

The U.S. Forces Korea(USFK) opened its new headquarters in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province on 29 July 2018. The relocation from Yongsan in central Seoul came 73 years after the USFK headquarters were first stationed in South Korea. With the relocation, the United Nations Command and US Forces Korea were leaving Yongsan, their home for the past six decades, and plan to complete their move to Camp Humphreys, by the end of 2018. Meanwhile, the ROK-US Combined Forces Command would relocate to a building inside South Korea's defense ministry in central Seoul by the end of 2018.

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Page last modified: 01-07-2021 18:03:21 ZULU