US forces in Korea: From bad to worseBy David Slatter Mar 19, 2013 12:49PM UTC
South Korean politicians promise ‘stronger measures’ on misbehaving US troops
A few weeks ago Notes From Korea reported on the problems the US forces are facing in Korea, problems all of their own making. The main case at the time was the Itaewon ‘BB shooting’ and the attempted hit and run of a Korean police officer. That case is continuing but since those involved have now been interviewed and reportedly offered full confessions, the story has slipped from the headlines. The USFK must have expected that if they kept their heads low they would be able to ride out the storm as they’ve done in the past.
But it seems some personnel are not on the same page, and the US troops have been anything but inconspicuous in the past few weeks.
Scandals came thick and fast; first an Army mechanic pulled a knife after a car crash. Last Thursday a U.S. private cornered a woman in an elevator to show her a pornographic video. Then over the weekend three G.I.’s and three Koreans were arrested after a stabbing outside a nightclub in DongDukcheon. The same weekend there was also two separate arrests of drunken troops in Hongdae, one of Korea’s foremost nightlife districts.
This furore shows no signs of dying down and instead new coals are getting thrown on the fire almost daily. President Park’s Office has reported that they have had stern words with the U.S. authorities in the country, and said, “After consultations with the U.S., we plan to come up with stronger measures.” This comes the day after new Foreign Policy chief Cheong Dae-Won called for the same. What’s being said might not be new, but hearing it from such high ranking offices is.
The Eighth Army was quick to show its reticence and issued an apology, in which it promises:
Immediate actions by the units involved include suspension of alcohol consumption, termination of all three and four day weekend passes, immediate accountability of all personnel, execution of personal conduct training, review and identification of service members who do not meet Army conduct standards, and leadership seminars that will focus on Army Values, Soldier responsibilities and cultural awareness and respect.
These are certainly strong measures, but they are all surely roadblocks attempting to divert Korean anger from the real concern; The SOFA agreement. SOFA is a particularly favourite topic of attack for some of Korea’s more reactionary elements, but politics has usually stayed above it. However, Park and the Korean Government may now be forced into a offering more sympathetic ear.
In fact, as I type, the Korea Herald has gone to press asking the exact question ‘Should SOFA Be Revised?’ The Chosun Ilbo has also unsurprisingly spoken in similar tones over the ‘fresh spate of crimes by U.S. soldiers.’
The reason the U.S. should be worried is that this is not directionless, general complaining. There is a goal in mind, namely that of Japan’s SOFA, where local police have much greater powers to apprehend U.S. Forces members before indictment. Whether this would truly change the situation at all is debatable, but the Korean appetitive for the change is not. How long until President Park feels the need to respond to such pressure?
Unfortunately amongst all this doom and gloom sometimes the good news goes unnoticed as four marines rescue some Koreans from a burning building.
* If you want to find out more about the ins-and-outs of the SOFA, as well as an armed forces point of view check out the excellent (although now slightly old) post on ROKDrop.