Monday, December 05, 2011

Recent Spate of Crimes by USFK

Dear Korean,

I was wondering what The Korean thought about the the tensions filled relationship between the U.S. troops stationed in Seoul and the local community in Itaewon. What do you think is the cause of the strain? I know recently there were two very high profile arrests and a conviction of a US Soldier on a heinous rape charge. I know if the situation was reversed one crime would be too many in my opinion.

Marcie L.

The Korean actually wrote about the relation between USFK and Korean people in a previous post. The Korean finds that the situation, as well as what the Korean thinks about the situation, remain largely the same as the time when that post was written. For those who are too lazy to read the old post, the gist of the Korean's take is -- USFK is slow to understand that the changing nature of Korean nationalism in the younger generation, which increasingly sees America as a competitor instead of an ally. Given the strategic importance of Korea, USFK would do well to understand the sea change around them and adjust accordingly. After all, American soldiers pride themselves to be professionals. They should not commit crimes and not also risk jail time for themselves, but also jeopardize the health of the alliance. As an American, it mortifies the Korean to read stories of American soldiers committing petty and serious crimes abroad.

A few items to update the situation:

- The details of the heinous rape case that Marcie L. mentioned are available here. Rough English translation is available here. Basically, the soldier bound, tortured and raped a teenage Korean woman for four hours. The soldier was sentenced to 10 years in prison in Korean court. Because of this crime, other petty crimes committed by USFK personnel -- like a scuffle with a cab driver over the fare -- are coming into renewed focus in Korean media.

- As is usual in this type of situation, Koreans are calling for another round of amending Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which defines the relations of USFK personnel and Korea. In particular, Koreans are unhappy with the clause that governs the situations in which USFK personnel commits a crime outside of his base. Under the current agreement, USFK must give a "favorable consideration" in producing a soldier accused of certain serious crimes (murder, rape, etc.) to Korean law enforcement. However, another clause specifies that, once the accused soldier is produced, she must be indicted within 24 hours of the production, unless she was arrested at the scene of the crime. As a practical matter, this clause makes a prosecution of a GI criminal difficult because it essentially gives exactly 24 hours to Korean law enforcement to investigate the alleged crime. (For example, it took 12 days to investigate and indict the rapist in the case above.) Korean government and USFK formed a joint committee to discuss the potential changes.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at


  1. I have two responses to this post:

    1) You remarked that younger Koreans view the U.S. "more as a competitor than as an ally". If that is the case, please explain what "strategic advantage" the U.S. derives from partially subsidizing the security needs of a competitor.

    2) While I also find the crimes committed by GI's embarrassing, I think they are an inevitable part of making soldiers your ambassadors to the world. Any group that predominately consists of 18-25 year old men is going to have violent criminals in its midst. When the violent crimes against Koreans inevitably occur, they serve as a beacon for anti-Americanism. Again, is the "strategic advantage" afforded by having U.S. troops in Korea sufficient enough to warrant the damage that these crimes cause to the larger relationship between the U.S. and Korea?

  2. @ JB


    AAK -

    It sounds like somehow "ally" and "competitor" are some mutually exclusive terms. Apples and oranges. As if becoming an economic competitor waters down the U.S./ROK military relationship, or will have to force a U.S. "adjustment" of some kind. What adjustment are you suggesting? Will a SOFA revision really address this?

    Obviously, these crimes are terrible. If this was Germany, I'll entertain a discourse on the reason for these bases/troops without immediate threat. But it's Korea, which is a different kettle of juche. There will always be issues, even very serious issues, but it should not cloud the fact behind the necessity of the U.S./ROK relationship.

  3. J.B.

    About America's strategic advantages, just off the top of my head:

    - Being in a position to strike China militarily any time America wants to.
    - Ensuring that large, prosperous parts of Asia (which include Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia, etc.) continue to be more within America's sphere of influence rather than China's, which leads to more trade and more wealth generation.
    - Billions of dollars worth of weapons sold to a consumer who does not exactly have a choice in choosing military technology.

    These advantages are extremely important, and it is worth for America to have the military presence. The larger relationship exists because of the military presence.


    It sounds like somehow "ally" and "competitor" are some mutually exclusive terms.

    They are not.

    What adjustment are you suggesting?

    1. Don't commit crimes.
    2. Do everything USFK can to curtail GI crimes, including mandatory education, curfew and harsh punishment for petty crimes.
    3. When a crime does happen, act quickly, transparently and fairly. USFK actually handled itself quite well in the recent spate of crimes -- it handed over the criminals almost right away.

    Basically, the idea is for USFK to have some self-awareness about the full consequences of GI crimes, which include a damage to U.S.-Korea relationship. Like you said, US-Korea relationship is necessary. But no matter how necessary it is, Korean people can be goaded into irrational anger if USFK does nothing to stop its soldiers from running amok. (This is NOT to say that USFK is doing nothing now.) That irrational anger is preventable, and USFK needs to take the first step because, after all, you are not supposed to commit crimes, period.

  4. The Koreans would never let us conduct operations against the PRC from their soil. Also, yes, the Koreans buy lots of military hardware from us but they've recently been caught stealing technology from said weapons for their own domestic arms industry, which is a fast-growing competitor to the U.S. defense industry worldwide. Personally, as much as I love Korea, I think we should leave. We don't get much for the billions we spend to defend the Koreans. If contain the PRC is our strategy, better to put troops in Vietnam, et al. than maintain them in Korea. Eventually Korea will "Finlandize" and kick us out and all of our sacrifices to date will have been wasted.

  5. PBAR,
    USFK DOES definitely contain Communist China. Think US considers that good enough. That's undeniable. As for SK not allowing US to launch attacks on China from SK, well would US be so willing to start a war Mexico if Mexico was capable of causing significant damage to LA/NYC/DC? Probably not.

    As for the accusation that SK stole military technology, specifically a component used on F-15K, is unsubstantiated. Nothing being reported in US media. And the media that's talking alot about it in SK is the usual anti-US crowd.

    Btw, Israel sold much US military techs to China and others. And these weren't a single component in a jet but designs for entire jets, AWACS tech etc etc. And US continues to sell/provide military aid to Israel. THere are other cases too.

  6. Saw a fine piece of writing about relation (or lack thereof) between USFK soldiers and S Korean females

    Someone posted it here:

    GIs are even lower down on this scale for a number of self-created reasons… such as partying in large and loud groups, dressing gangsta (which doesn’t attract most Korean girls), acting like 2011 Korea is 1968 Vietnam when it comes to talking to girls, etc.

    There are plenty of perpetually third-world Asian nations where one can recapture the warm glow of cheap and easy female attention (at any age)…
    …but Korea, in many ways, is MORE developed than America right now.

    Korean girls neither want nor need a white knight to take them away from misery, poverty, or an increasingly less-restrictive social environment.

    Considering how many of the young GIs probably never left their rural hometown (or some inner city) before and being dropped in a nation where all they really know about is the Korean War and the associates images, yeah I can see some GIs seem to think SK girls would be easy pickings and getting upset when it turns out to be false.

  7. PBAR,

    The Koreans would never let us conduct operations against the PRC from their soil.

    Ok, why not?

    Also, yes, the Koreans buy lots of military hardware from us but they've recently been caught stealing technology from said weapons for their own domestic arms industry, which is a fast-growing competitor to the U.S. defense industry worldwide.

    First of all, so far nothing has been proven about the allegations of technology stealing. And even if the allegations are true, it is colossal stupidity to give up on several billion dollars worth of sales just to spite a competitor. Just ask Apple and Samsung.

    If contain the PRC is our strategy, better to put troops in Vietnam, et al. than maintain them in Korea.

    Because Vietnam will totally welcome American military presence at the scale of USFK in Korea, right?

  8. The Koreans will never let us operate against PRC from their soil because they don't want to get dragged into a war between the US and PRC. Afterall they'll still be right next door to the PRC long after the American empire collapses due to its financial profligacy.

    I pointed out the theft of U.S. technology as an example of how one-sided in favor of Korea the US-ROK alliance is. I fail to see what the US gets out of the alliance? Contain PRC? BS!

    The Vietnamese will probably be willing to let us use one airbase and one port. Not much different than USFK if you discount the Army forces. We certainly aren't gonna attack overland through the DPRK to get at China and the Army forces are therefore irrelevant in a discussion about containing the PRC. As an aside, who says the PRC needs to be contained? They are quite a ways from meaningful power projection capability and have a raft of internal issues that will most likely curb their appetite for military adventurism- pollution, a rapidly greying population, corruption, water shortages, municipal debt, etc.

  9. PBAR,
    I'm sorry but your post from 12/07/2011 WAS BS. Of course SK doesn't want to get dragged into war with PRC if they can avoid it. You do have a map handy I hope? Would you?

    Really? Vietnam would allow US to use an airbase and a port to launch attack against PRC? US can't exactly launch a land attack against PRC. Look at the map.

    Again, about the 'alleged' theft of US tech, so what do you think US is getting out of supporting Israel?

  10. Email comment from Krits:

    "That the USA has been instrumental in preventing war & saving S. Korea is something the world has acknowledged. Great job done! Now as grateful as the Koreans might be to their savior, it is irrational to imagine that they(or anyone sane for that matter), as an expression of gratitude, might overlook the heinous crimes committed by the army personnel. Exactly where did they gather the courage to rape and murder the very people they were meant to protect? Would the law of USA not treat them differently had such rape been committed in Los Angeles? Why were they not punished brutally? How come such crimes recur?

    The US of A certainly exhibits a lackadaisical attitude towards the sentiments' of Koreans. Perhaps winning their trust is not as glamorous or economically beneficial as marketing Coca-Cola, but it would be a great step in building a healthy world!

    And... I wonder what it is that drives the brain of these guys in the military! I've read so many reports of nightmarish, cruel rape. These are prevalent across the globe, not just in Korea. They should all be shot dead! How does it matter which govt. tries them, the verdict should be the same! Don't you think?"

  11. The problem is the increased number of low quality individuals (high school drop outs who would be lucky to find work washing dishes in the states, people with criminal history, and those who are mentally unstable) joining the US military. I have discussed this issue with my friend who is an US Army officer serving in Dong Doo Chun and he said that there is a huge problem with the kind of new recruits who are joining the US army. He says that unless the US army adopts a more strict requirement for joining the army these kinds of ugly incidents with continue.

  12. @ The Korean:

    "1. Don't commit crimes."

    While this is profoundly unreasonable, it is likely to happen anyhow (if that makes sense)! With Iraq and Afghanistan winding down, the Army is tightening its standards and not getting enlistees specifically wanting to fight in GWOT. In due time, higher quality enlistees not inclined to be angry at the world for not being sent to a shooting war will filter into Korea. Problem largely solved!

    "2. Do everything USFK can to curtail GI crimes, including mandatory education, curfew and harsh punishment for petty crimes."

    Having lived the life, I can tell you "mandatory education" will do nothing but annoy GIs. I suspect USFK punishing offenders isn't going to help much as I think the issue is more Koreans wanting to exact their own vengeance. Curfews would be reasonable though and I suspect would help.

    No problems with #3.

    One more point of my own. I think GIs out on the streets need to police each other up and not ignore instances of Soldiers behaving poorly. As an example, I once tore into a bunch of Soldiers at the Itaweon McDonalds and ordered them out of the store when I saw them scaring the bejeesus out of a bunch of schoolgirls by making sexual comments to them. I also cleaned up the garbage they left. I know this didn't single handedly save US-ROK relations, but every bit of kindness counts!

  13. Chris, you are an upstanding gentleman. Thank you for doing that at McDonald's. Living in DC/Northern VA, I am constantly impressed by how upstanding our folks in uniform are.


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