The US has a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) or similar agreement with countries around the world where US armed forces are stationed. The USROK SOFA is an international agreement designed to serve the mutual interests of the US and the ROK and to protect the basic rights of US citizens who are subject to its provisions. The US-ROK SOFA recognizes US sovereign immunities and balances the American citizen's individual rights with obligations to the host government and to local laws.
International agreements like the USROK SOFA are based on the principal of mutual respect. Americans living in Korea under SOFA protections are expected to behave just as we would expect Koreans to behave, if they were stationed in our hometowns in the US.
As a military or civilian member of the United States Forces Korea (USFK), you play an essential part in accomplishing the defense mission of our country in Northeast Asia. The Korean peninsula occupies a strategically important location where the vital interests of four great powers-- China, Japan, Russia and the United States--converge. A brief and general review of the historical facts underlying the presence of American forces in Korea may help to put your presence here in perspective.
At the conclusion of World War II in 1945, the Korean peninsula was divided into two parts along the 38th parallel solely for the purpose of facilitating the surrender of the defeated Japanese forces. However, this temporary dividing line hardened into a political boundary due to the refusal of the Soviet authorities in the northern part to comply with provisions of certain wartime agreements reached at Cairo and Potsdam that promised the restoration of a free and independent Korea after the war. Efforts by the allied powers to resolve the differences failed. The United Nations (UN) also tried in 1947 to achieve a united Korea by directing that free elections be held in all parts of Korea. Elections were held in the southern half of Korea, but the Soviets again refused to cooperate.
Following the UN elections, the Republic of Korea (ROK) was established, while Soviet and north Korean communists fashioned a state under the banner of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). Then on June 25th, 1950, north Korean forces invaded the ROK in defiance of international law and the UN Charter. At the call of the US, the UN Security Council immediately convened and demanded that the north Korean forces cease the aggression and that peace be restored on the peninsula. To enforce the UN mandate, the Security Council established the United Nations Command (UNC) comprised of armed forces from the US and 15 other UN member nations. The UNC, assisted by the ROK armed forces, successfully repulsed the aggression. In 1953, the belligerents signed the Korean Armistice Agreement, terminating the hostilities, pending a final peace settlement. Also signed in 1953 was the US-ROK Mutual Defense Treaty, an agreement that obligated the parties to assist each other in collective self-defense should either party be threatened by an external armed attack in the Pacific area. Article IV of the treaty provided for the stationing of US armed forces in and about the territory of the Republic of Korea.
After a long series of negotiations, the US-ROK Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) was signed in 1966 and went into force in 1967. The SOFA defines the status of US personnel and contains articles, minutes and understandings concerning the rights and obligations of the two parties.
Each member of MARFORK is responsible for being informed about individual responsibilities and rights under the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) in order to protect those rights, perform effectively on the job and enjoy a trouble free tour in Korea. Sponsors are responsible for seeing that their dependents know their responsibilities and rights under the SOFA. All commanders and supervisors have a special responsibility to periodically hold education programs for their personnel to ensure that those in their command know about their responsibilities and rights under the SOFA and the importance of acting in accordance with the laws and regulations of the Republic of Korea and the United States of America. The US-ROK SOFA is a means to promote friendship and understanding between the peoples of the United States and Korea, and it is a means for closer and more effective government cooperation.
The information contained here will not make you a SOFA expert, but it will inform you about things you may not have thought about up to now. Knowing about your SOFA rights and obligations will help make your tour in Korea more productive, enjoyable and trouble free.