Residents of the city of Dongducheon are fed up with U.S. bases that have long occupied their city and are vowing to fight to take back their land.  Two thousand Dongducheon residents, including the city’s mayor and members of the city council, staged an unprecedented protest last week outside Camp Casey, which houses the U.S. Second Infantry Division.

63 years ago, the government forcibly expropriated our land and handed it over to the U.S. military,” said enraged Dongducheon mayor Oh Se-chang, “Today, it didn’t even bother to consult Dongducheon residents before unilaterally deciding to keep US forces here.”

He is referring to the outcome of last month’s US-South Korea Security Consultative Meeting (SCM), which decided to leave the 210th Armored Brigade of the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division in Camp Casey in Dongducheon, Gyeonggi Province, north of Seoul.

This decision by the defense ministers of both countries violates an earlier 2002 agreement, the Land Partnership Plan, which slated the relocation of the U.S. Second Division to Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul, by the end of 2016.

Government’s unilateral policy chokes the city of Dongducheon,’ ‘US bases trample on Dongducheon aspirations,’ ’60 years of sacrifice in the  name of security,’ read protest signs at the rally on November 5.

For the past 60 years since the end of the Korean War, U.S. bases have occupied 42.5% of the land in Dongducheon.  In anticipation of 2016, when all U.S. bases in Dongducheon were slated to be relocated to Pyeongtaek, the city has been planning major city development projects, including the construction of large-scale residential facilities and a state of the art research complex.

But the government’s abrupt decision to keep the 210th Fire Brigade at Camp Casey has thrown the city’s planning into confusion, and a complete overhaul of the development plan is now unavoidable.  Camp Casey is the largest of the six U.S. bases in Dongducheon.

The 100,000 residents of Dongducheon will no longer remain silent and will fight until our demands are met,” vowed Mayor Oh.  The residents’ demands include the relocation of all US bases in Dongducheon to Pyeongtaek by 2016 as originally planned, and the return of all land to the city of Dongducheon.

OPCON Transfer Indefinitely Delayed

At the 46th U.S.-South Korea Security Consultative Meeting (SCM), held in Washington DC on October 23, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo also agreed to delay indefinitely the transfer of wartime operational control (OPCON), originally scheduled for 2015, and leave the U.S. Combined Forces Command (CFC) at the Yongsan Garrison in the heart of Seoul.

The CFC was to have been dissolved if the OPCON transfer had taken place as scheduled in 2015.  The decision to leave the CFC in Yongsan also violates the Yongsan Relocation Plan (YRP), which also slates the relocation of the Yongsan Garrison to Pyeongtaek by the end of 2016.

The indefinite delay of OPCON transfer contradicts President Park’s pledge before she took office.  We have to prepare for the OPCON transfer without delay,” was Park’s campaign pledge in November 2012.  Park’s inauguration preparatory committee repeated this pledge in February 2013.

The ROK will assume wartime OPCON when critical ROK and Alliance military capabilities are secured and the security environment on the Korean Peninsula and in the region is conducive to a stable OPCON transition,” states the Joint Communique of last month’s SCM.  It does not, however, specify a timeframe for when they expect to secure ‘critical military capabilities’ and a region that is ‘conducive to a stable OPCON transition’.

THAAD Deployment a Matter of Time

The two countries deny there was any discussion at last month’s SCM on the controversial deployment of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), the core of US anti-ballistic missile system, in South Korea.

They did, however, agree to create a comprehensive operational concept on joint missile defense (MD) – ‘Concepts and Principles of ROK-U.S. Alliance Comprehensive Counter-missile Operations’.  This means in the event of a contingency on the Korean peninsula, they will mobilize US MD assets to respond to a potential North Korean nuclear/missile threat.

The United States has pressed in the past ‘interoperability’ between the MD systems of both countries. This means the MD capabilities that South Korea is currently developing will eventually become integrated into the US MD system and supplement US’ missile information gathering and interception capabilities.

This type of interoperability inevitably requires the deployment of the THAAD command and control system in South Korea, say experts.  So although the two countries, in order to evade public criticism, are in public denial about there having been any agreement or discussion about THAAD deployment at the recent SCM, their agreement to establish the ‘Concepts and Principles of ROK-U.S. Alliance Comprehensive Counter-missile Operations suggests a tacit agreement on the future deployment of THAAD in Korea.

This, coupled with South Korean Defense Chief Han Min-koo’s recent statementsOur options for countering the threat of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile threat are limited. Deploying THAAD would be helpful for South Korean national security and defense.” – indicates that THAAD deployment in Korea is likely just a matter of time.