The American military has long insisted that it is too dangerous and costly for U.S. troops stationed in South Korea to bring their spouses and children along for the deployment. That was certainly true for decades. But the security situation has improved to the point that this hardship is no longer reasonable. The commander of U.S. forces in South Korea is right to push the Pentagon to change the policy and allow families to accompany their soldiers.
Of the 29,000 Americans serving in South Korea, only 1 in 10 is authorized to be there with their family. This abundance of caution reflected the risks that American forces faced from a hostile, unstable North and a South Korea with a limited ability to defend itself.
But evolving diplomatic ties with the North and the South's improved military capacity make the time right to rethink America's deployment policy. Gen. B.B. Bell, the American commander, said he favors "a slow but real movement toward more accompanied tours over there. It would result in a more enhanced quality of life."
While about 3,000 service members have authorized family in South Korea, another 2,000 military families have moved there at their own expense so they can stay together. The military has even made room for these independent families at schools and medical facilities it operates. That's the right thing to do. But it is time to make that practice the rule, not the exception.
Service members should not have to bear the financial costs and worry of bringing their families with them. Allowing spouses and children in South Korea will likely cost the United States millions for housing, schools and medical facilities. But it would boost the quality of life for military families and help improve discipline and morale among troops stationed in South Korea. The move would also signal to both Koreas a further normalization of U.S. intentions. That should lower the boiling point on the Korean peninsula. The Pentagon should be open to Gen. Bell's proposal. It could do a lot of good for U.S. military families and for stability in the Far East.