Senior military and security experts were joined by thousands of conservative activist groups on Friday in a rally against Korea’s efforts to take over sole wartime operational control of its forces. Participants said President Roh Moo-hyun and his administration were destroying the Korea-U.S. alliance with efforts to take wartime control out of U.S. hands and called for Roh’s resignation if they persist. Some slogans called for the president to be impeached.The Korean divide breaks down sharply by age, with older generations (especially military veterans) favoring a continued US presence and younger ones wanting more self-determination. President Roh Moo-hyun is a left-liberal (by Korean standards--notice, incidentally, how confusing the terms 'conservative' and 'liberal' can be, as it is the liberals in Korea who favor more national control while the conservatives want more of an international presence in deciding South Korean actions). So time is on Roh's side. For now, the plan is for parallel commands to be run in the event of hostilities with North Korea or some other cause for military action, presumably China.
Further, the US plans on continuing to draw down its commitments on the peninsula:
The U.S. has proposed returning the wartime operational control of troops to South Korea by 2009, citing the latter's improved defense capabilities, while South Korea hopes to take over the wartime command after 2011. ...Retaining sedentary forces in South Korea is antithetical to Rumsfeld's plan to make the US military leaner, more reliant on precision and satellite-guided firepower, and numerically smaller. Also, the presence of troops feeds public hostility to the US when accidents like the death of two Korean girls who were run over by a tank a few years back occur. It lessens the incentive for Japan and Taiwan--both of whom are threatened by North Korea's unpredictability immediately and China in the future--to do the heavy lifting in counter-balancing the PRC's influence in Asia. South Korea is also threatened by the North, but it's more complicated in that the collapse of Kim Jung Il's regime presents a massive refugee problem for the South to deal with.
Currently, about 30,000 U.S. troops [in comparison to South Korea's total military personnel of 680,000] are stationed in South Korea, a legacy of the Korean War. The U.S. plans to cut the number to 25,000 by 2008.
Seems to me that we benefit from gradually removing ourselves militarily from South Korea. As the US faces external challenges from the continued quagmire in Iraq and wider Middle East and internal challenges from an incoming wave of entitlement obligations, an aging society, and global competition, South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan are going to have to assume greater responsibility as the power balancers in Asia (currently the combined military spending of the three countries comes to $73 billion, about $8 billion short of China but dwarfing the paltry $5 billion spent by the North). The acquisition of nuclear weapons by at least one of these three (in addition to those possessed by India) would be enough to substantially check Chinese military expansionism if that ever arises. By conceding this right to South Korea, the US will be able to win a few PR points in overturning the restriction it put on Seoul when it wanted to go nuclear over thirty years ago.
On the other hand, continued cooperation between the North and South will have a better chance of succeeding without US interference. Some progress has been made:
In terms of inter-Korean relations, considerable accomplishments were made in the first half of 2004: inter-Korean cooperative projects were smoothly carried out; military cooperation was realized; and an atmosphere conducive to resolving the nuclear issue was created, etc. Up until late July, nine occasions of political/military talks, 13 occasions of economic talks, and three occasions of Red Cross/sports-related talks were held (total of 25 meetings).Busting the North out of Kim Sung Il's terrible centrally-controlled disaster is a long time coming. Despite having an estimated IQ of 106 (although severe malnutrition that has left younger North Koreans several inches shorter than their southern siblings has likely had a deleterious effect on the North's average IQ), the average North Korean suffers a standard of living as measured by purchasing power parity equivalent to that of the average Haitian.