Extending Korea’s participation in the multinational naval operations in the Gulf of Aden and extending the stationing of a military unit in the UAE when the matter comes up for vote in the National Assembly later this month would demonstrate Korea’s commitment to playing an active role in the international community.
A 4,000-ton Navy destroyer and some 320 military personnel which make up the Cheonghae unit have been stationed in the Gulf of Aden since March 2009 as part of the Combined Task Force 151, a multinational naval task force charged with protecting civilian shipping against rampant pirate attacks in the gulf and the waters off Somalia. Korea, with some 500 of its ships passing through the area each year, is a beneficiary of such multinational patrolling of the seas. In January 2011, the unit rescued a Korean tanker taken hostage by pirates.
The plan to extend the Cheonghae unit’s deployment reflects the increasingly important role of the Korean naval unit in the multinational naval task force, according to the Defense Ministry. The recent withdrawal of three European destroyers and a patrol plane from the region has made the Korean unit’s participation even more crucial, the ministry explained.
Extending Chonghae unit’s deployment through the end of 2016 will cost 30.1 billion won ($25.8 million) but this will be money well spent. It would boost Korea’s standing in the international community and provide a valuable experience of working within a multinational force. At a time when China and Japan are poised to exercise greater influence in the Gulf of Aden, it is all the more necessary to extend the unit’s deployment.
The 150-troop Ahk unit stationed in the UAE since January 2011 trains the UAE special forces and conducts joint military drills in the country. While the Ahk unit’s deployment does not yield immediate tangible results, it helps boost Korea’s presence and influence in the region and offers an invaluable opportunity to conduct military exercises in terrains unfamiliar to the Korean military. Furthermore, the unit will play an important role in protecting Korean nationals in the region should such a need arise, according to the Defense Ministry. The budget for extending the deployment of the Ahk unit has been set at 7.9 billion won.
The recent investigations of corruption allegations at the Cheonghae and Ahk units have created unfavorable publicity for overseas deployment of Korean troops. However, they are problems that can be fixed easily and should not influence the decision on extending deployment. There is much to gain from the two units’ deployment overseas.