President Obama: Time to End the Korean War & US militarism in Korea

This week, April 25-26, President Obama will travel to South Korea, a key U.S. ally, as part of his current “swing” through four Asian nations.  His agenda is to reaffirm and strengthen the military and economic relationship between the United States and South Korea, a thick alliance linked by the Mutual Defense Treaty of 1953, as many as 50 U.S. bases on Korean soil, and the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement, signed in 2007 and broadened in 2011.

Although Obama’s visit is highly significant, the most critical issue will likely get little mention: ending the Korean War.  An Armistice Agreement signed by the United States in 1953 called for a peace treaty and removal of all foreign troops from Korea.  Over 60 years later, no treaty has been signed and some 28,500 US troops still remain there.  The Korean War is still not officially over, and the United States spends tens of billions of dollars each year in military exercises in South Korea, as well as its permanent troop presence on bases throughout South Korea.

As argued by James Laney, former U.S. ambassador to South Korea, without a peace treaty, “every dispute presents afresh the question of the other side’s legitimacy.” These longstanding tensions serve to give the U.S. a ready enemy in North Korea and a heavily militarized ally in South Korea. The Pacific Pivot, a key item on Obama’s agenda this week, will just exacerbate this.

Instead of actively working to help end the Korean War, which would provide a crucial baseline for new relationships among the affected parties, the United States has further militarized the conflict. The expansion of the Camp Humphreys US Army base, south of Seoul required the forced removal of rice farmers, and was bitterly resisted by villagers and activists for several years.

And currently a new naval base is under construction near Gangjeong, Jeju Island, off Korea’s south coast. Famed for its natural beauty and pristine environment, Jeju is home to three designated UNESCO World heritage sites.

Although officially declared a South Korean naval base, it will house U.S. Aegis destroyers as part of the Pacific Pivot. Gangjeong residents have vehemently opposed this construction, which is destroying their citrus groves, their coastline, and their ocean environment with its coral reefs and rich marine life.  Local villagers and their supporters have sustained daily nonviolent protests, direct action and major demonstrations since plans for the naval base were announced over seven years ago. A resounding 95 percent of Jeju residents voted against the base, and have used every possible democratic means to block its construction.

We support Jeju residents’ opposition to this base and see it as part of a provocative strategy to surround China, which we believe will further destabilize the Asia-Pacific region. We recognize that the Jeju people’s resistance to the militarization of their island has long roots, dating back to the April 3rd 1948 massacre when Korean troops, with full knowledge of U.S. officials,slaughtered some 80,000 civilians on Jeju island.  In 2006, President Roh Moo Hyun officially apologized for this atrocity by designating Jeju the “Island of Peace.”  Earlier this month on the 66th anniversary of the Jeju Massacre the South Korean government declared this tragedy as something the nation should remember.

Korean activists are planning various events in response to Obama’s visit.  These include an international symposium to develop a plan to counter the 14-nation free trade agreement, the Trans Pacific partnership (TPP); and a mass demonstration to denounce the Park Geun-hye government for opening up the rice market to outside competition, privatizing public industries, and joining the TPP.  These actions undermine democracy and destroy people’s livelihood.In addition, Korean activists demand a peace treaty on the Korean peninsula, and oppose the remilitarization of Japan.

In solidarity with such actions we call for a peace treaty to finally end the Korean War, and an alliance between the United States and South Korea that will foster genuine security among all our communities rather than military expansion and corporate domination.


Gwyn Kirk and Debbie Lee

Women for Genuine Security

WGS is the U.S-based partner organization in the International Women’s Network Against Militarism, a network of individuals and organizations from Guam, Hawai‘i, Japan, Okinawa, PhilippinesPuerto Rico, South Korea and the continental United States who are organizing against the harmful effects of U.S. bases, military budgets, and military operations. 


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