A glimpse into South Korea’s new naval base on Jeju Island

(From the National Interest)

By Euan Graham

Four years ago I wrote about South Korea’s strategically far-sighted but locally controversial plans to construct a new naval base on Jeju island. After speaking at last week’s Jeju Forum I couldn’t resist an invitation from the Korean Institute for Maritime Strategy to slip away between panel discussions to attend a briefing at the newly opened facility.

The major locational advantage of the base for South Korea, given its hemmed-in geography, is that it faces onto the relatively open waters of the East China Sea. The ROK Navy (ROKN) has existing facilities at Busan and Jinhae, and previously operated a small facility on Jeju’s northern coast. But the much larger, south-facing base offers unobstructed access to South Korea’s major sea lines of communication passing through the western Pacific.

South Korean Navy destroyer

South Korean Navy destroyer

Seoul’s commitment to invest in a major new base on South Korea’s southernmost extent of territory suggests a broader significance: a recognition that the country needs to broaden its strategic horizons beyond the ever-present threat from the North. This is something that deserves encouragement, given South Korea’s unrealized potential as a middle power with global maritime interests, and a stake in freedom of navigation very similar to Japan.

The ROKN has long nurtured ambitions to develop into an ocean-going ‘blue-water’ force. It has taken considerable strides towards this goal, acquiring an impressive, domestically-built force structure, while playing second or third fiddle within a defense force configured to deter an adversary who is still primarily land-based (but moving increasingly into hybrid and asymmetrical dimensions of warfare).

In 2010, the loss of a South Korean corvette with 46 sailors in coastal waters to a suspected North Korean torpedo attack was a brutal reality check for the ROKN’s strategic ambitions. Against such real-world threats, covering coastal contingencies and blue-water operations in parallel is a stretch for a middle-sized navy like South Korea’s. Read more



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