| A Country Study: South Korea
United States Forces in Korea
Figure 17. Organization of South Korean and United States Forces in South Korea, 1988
Source: Based on information from Republic of Korea, Ministry of National Defense, Defense White Paper, 1987, Seoul, 1988; and Taek Hyong Rhee, US-ROK Combined Operations, Washington, 1986, 31-47.
In the confusion of the early days of the Korean War, Seoul placed its armed forces under the command of General Douglas MacArthur as United Nations (UN) commander. This arrangement continued after the armistice. For some twenty-five years, the United Nations Command headquarters, which had no South Korean officers in it, was responsible for the defense of South Korea, with operational control over a majority of the units in the South Korean military. The command was the primary peacetime planning organization for allied response to a North Korean invasion of South Korea and the principal wartime command organization for all South Korean and United States forces involved in defending South Korea. In 1978 a binational headquarters, the South Korea-United States Combined Forces Command (CFC), was created, and the South Korean military units with front-line missions were transferred from the UN Command to the CFC's operational control. The commander in chief of the CFC, a United States military officer, answered ultimately to the national command authorities of the United States and the Republic of Korea (see fig. 17).
Historically, operational control of South Korea's tactical armed forces has made the United States commander vulnerable to the politics of association. United States commanders have rigidly avoided commentary on South Korean party politics, confining public statements to purely military matters on such issues as arms buildups and threats from North Korea. However, in the complex politics of the Korean Peninsula, the United States commander's military opinions often have been publicly manipulated as support for Seoul's authoritarianism.
In May 1961 and December 1979, the command structure was breached by South Korean troops participating in military coups. A more complex set of circumstances occurred in May 1980, when troops were withdrawn from the CFC under existing procedures and dispatched to Kwangju to respond to the student uprising. Confusion in the South Korean public over the particular circumstances of the incident, the United States position, and the limits of the CFC's control led many South Koreans to believe that the United States fully supported the violent suppression of the uprising. The lack of an accurate historical record for nearly ten years generated widespread misunderstanding, and it has been credited with the rise of anti-Americanism in South Korea, a movement which continues.
Only after President Chun stepped down at the end of 1987, and the opposition in the National Assembly grew stronger, did the United States begin answering the questions concerning United States involvement in Kwangju. On June 19, 1989, Washington issued the "United States Government Statement on Events in Kwangju, Republic of Korea, in May 1980," in response to formal requests from the National Assembly. The statement addressed a series of questions related to the rise to power of then Lieutenant General Chun Doo Hwan. The statement noted no prior knowledge of the assassination of President Park Chung Hee, nor warning of the December 12, 1979, íncident, in which a group of South Korean army officers led by Major General Chun seized control of the military. It was revealed that Washington repeatedly protested to the government and the military leadership about the misuse of forces under the Combined Forces Command. The report also stated that South Korean authorities gave the United States two hours advanced warning of the extension of martial law on May 18, 1980, and no prior warning of the military's intention to arrest political leaders or to close both the National Assembly and the universities.
The statement clearly noted that none of the South Korean forces deployed at Kwangju were, during that time, under either the operational control of the CFC or the control of any United States authorities. Additionally, the United States had neither prior knowledge of the deployment of special forces to Kwangju nor responsibility for their actions there. The report addressed the use of the Twentieth Division, CFC, and clarified that the CFC agreement allowed both the United States and South Korea to assert control over its forces at any time without the consent of the other. According to the statement, the United States was informed in advance of intentions to use elements of the Twentieth Division to reenter Kwangju, that United States officials, after cautioning against the use of military force to solve a political crisis, accepted that it would be preferable to use the Twentieth Division rather than Special Forces units (but the latter were also involved). The report further documented that the United States repeatedly protested public distortions of Washington's actions and policy by Seoul and the South Korean press, namely allegations that the United States knew either of the December 12 incident in advance or of the extension of martial law, or that Washington approved of the Special Forces actions in Kwangju.
While the report rebutted most of the myths of American culpability for events in 1979 and 1980, the ten-year delay in issuing the report did little to resolve the misgivings held by many South Koreans, who still persisted in believing that the United States was in some way a party to the military takeover in May 1980, and the harsh suppression of the Kwangju demonstrations that followed.
In 1990 a few hundred United States military personnel were assigned to the United Nations Command headquarters in P'anmunjom, in the DMZ, and were responsible for representing the United States at meetings of the Military Armistice Commission. Because the Seoul and P'yongyang governments had never negotiated a peace agreement after the Korean War, the sometimes shaky 1953 armistice concluded between the United Nations Command, North Korea, and China remained the only formal channel for handling complaints about violations of the truce.
There were 32,000 United States Army personnel in South Korea in 1990; most were assigned to the Eighth Army, which included the Second Infantry Division, the Seventeenth Aviation Brigade, and other detachments deployed north of Seoul as part of the joint South Korean-United States forward defense strategy. If a conflict were to occur, the Second Infantry Division would be expected to serve as a reserve force for the South Korean army on one of the main invasion routes between the DMZ and Seoul. United States Army personnel with command or planning responsibilities for combat units also were assigned to the headquarters of the CFC and to the headquarters of the Republic of Korea-United States Combined Field Army, of which the Second Infantry Division was the main American component. The remaining United States Army personnel were assigned to support the missions of selected United States and South Korean combat units, serving primarily in communications, logistics, and training positions.
There were 12,000 United States Air Force personnel in South Korea in 1990. They were assigned to units responsible for early warning, air interception, close air support of United States and South Korean ground forces, combat support, aircraft maintenance, and the transportation of personnel and supplies from the United States, Japan, and other United States military installations in the Pacific. The Seventh Air Force, headquartered at Osan Air Base, was the command element for all United States Air Force organizations in South Korea. United States Lockheed U-2 high- altitude reconnaissance and South Korean Grumman E-2C early warning aircraft patrolled the North Korean border and monitored the Soviet Union's air and naval activities in the Sea of Japan area. Advanced F-16 fighter aircraft were used by tactical fighter squadrons based at Osan and Kunsan. These squadrons operated alongside South Korean air force tactical squadrons in both air interception and close air support roles. South Korea and the United States jointly managed the South Korean tactical air control system, which had wartime responsibility for North Korean airspace and the entire South Korean coastline. The United States Military Airlift Command was responsible for transporting United States military personnel, weapons, and supplies from the United States and locations in the Pacific to South Korea.
United States Navy and United States Marine Corps personnel in South Korea consisted of about 500 officers and enlisted personnel who occupied critical staff and liaison positions in the CFC. The United States Pacific Command in Hawaii frequently deployed units of the United States Pacific Fleet, based in Japan, and units of the marine corps, based in Okinawa and other locations in the Pacific, to South Korea for joint training exercises, particularly Team Spirit, held every spring to promote South Korean-United States military cooperation and readiness. During the 1988 Seoul Olympics, the United States Seventh Fleet operated in the Sea of Japan and was assigned specific missions to assist units of the CFC in discouraging P'yongyang from attempting to disrupt the Olympic Games.
Data as of June 1990
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