After several months of delay, on February 13th, the South
Korean Parliament approved a plan to deploy 3,000 troops to Iraq.
The troop dispatch, approved in a resounding 155-50 vote, will add
a strong combat force to the 465 Korean military medics and
engineers who have been in Iraq since May 2003. This deployment is
evidence that the U.S.-ROK alliance remains strong.
A Significant Deployment
This additional contingent of 1,400 combat Marines and Special
Forces commandos and 1,600 military engineers and medics will be
responsible for security and reconstruction in the northern Iraqi
city of Kirkuk. The troops are expected to arrive in April and will
allow the United States to withdraw some of its173rd Airborne
Division. This deployment, expected to cost Korea approximately
$200 million, will make South Korea the third-largest contributor
to coalition forces after the United States and Great Britain.
This will be South Korea's largest troops dispatch since the
Vietnam War, when Korea sent more than 300,000 men over a
twelve-year period, forming the second largest army fighting in
South Korea's decision to dispatch troops to Iraq is highly
significant, not just for Korea, but for the United States and the
U.S.-ROK (Republic of Korea) alliance. The United States should
laud Korea's political leadership for overcoming bitter bipartisan
bickering and vocal public opposition to the measure. Indeed, this
was an important political victory for President Roh Moo Hyun,
whose leadership has been tested in recent months by waning public
support and an antagonistic legislature.
The United States should also recognize and give due credit to
the South Korean government for making a politically difficult
decision, albeit one that serves Korea's national interests. These
- Boosting South Korea's military alliance and bilateral
relationship with the United States and establishing new
parameters for continued cooperation in the future. The U.S.-ROK
alliance has come under serious doubt in recent months due to
perception of anti-Americanism in Korea. South Korea's contribution
to U.S.-led efforts in Iraq is an important sign of support for
- Providing an invaluable opportunity for the ROK military
to test their training and capabilities in a coalition environment.
The South Korean military has a worldwide reputation as one of the
finest militaries and, yet, they have not tested their capabilities
in a combat environment since the Vietnam war. The fact that over
18,000 army personnel volunteered to serve in Iraq shows the
commitment and dedication of the ROK military.
- Setting a new benchmark in Korean foreign policy by
actively contributing to international security outside the
Northeast Asia region in the post-Cold war era. As the 12th largest
economy in the world with a significant commercial presence around
the world, South Korea should do more to contribute to the peace
and security of the international community, commensurate with its
- Establishing a strong presence in Iraq and the region, which
will contribute to securing greater stability of energy
supplies. South Korearelies on the Middle East for more than 70
percent of its crude oil supplies, which provide approximately half
of its national energy requirements. By contributing to security
and stability in the region, South Korea is actively participating
in securing resources, rather than solely relying on the United
States to do so.
An Enduring Alliance
The U.S.-ROK alliance, born a half-century ago out of necessity
to defend the interests of both the United States and South Korea,
has endured due to sacrifices and contributions made by both
allies. This most recent contribution by South Korea is a
significant step to ensuring that the alliance is still strong,
resilient, and relevant. America should commend South Korea for its
unwavering commitment to securing international peace and
Balbina Y. Hwang is a policy analyst in the Asian Studies
Center at The Heritage Foundation.