Home GRASP GRASP/Korea Notion of U. S. Troop Cuts Unnerves South Korea and Japan

Notion of U. S. Troop Cuts Unnerves South Korea and Japan


As President Trump weighs drawing down forces in the South, longtime Asian allies are unsettled by the prospect of giving up American protection.
SEOUL, South Korea — With diplomacy moving apace to end North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, Northeast Asia is bracing for something few had thought likely just months ago: a reduction or withdrawal of American troops from South Korea.
These forces have been the bedrock of the 65-year-old alliance between Seoul and Washington since the 1950-53 Korean War, serving as a bulwark against North Korean aggression and preserving a shaky peace that allowed South Korea to build its economy into a global powerhouse.
Now their presence is being questioned by President Trump, who is skeptical of maintaining a costly American military presence overseas, and by North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, who called last week for a peace treaty formally ending the Korean War.
As Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim prepare to meet within the next few weeks to discuss peace and an end to North Korea’s nuclear program, Mr. Trump has ordered the Pentagon to prepare options for reducing the number of American troops in the South, according to several people briefed on the deliberations.
The news jolted South Korea and Japan, where many are deeply skeptical about Mr. Kim’s reported vow to negotiate away his nuclear weapons and fear that Mr. Trump’s “America-first” diplomacy will leave them fending for themselves as China asserts its military prowess.
“For South Korea, living with a nuclear-armed North Korea is much better than living without American troops,” said Shin Won-sik, a retired three-star South Korean general. “If they are gone, we will lose proof that the Americans will defend us. We will lose confidence that if war breaks out, we can win.”
In Seoul, President Moon Jae-in moved quickly Friday to calm jitters, especially among older conservatives, who consider the American military presence a sacrosanct symbol of national security and are deeply skeptical of Mr. Kim’s intentions. Mr. Moon’s office said news that the White House was considering drawing down troops was “not true at all.”
“The Moon government doesn’t want the focus of public attention to move from the denuclearization of North Korea to the withdrawal of U. S. troops yet, which is such a political hot potato,” said Lee Byong-chul, senior fellow at the Institute for Peace and Cooperation in Seoul. “But if a peace treaty is signed, the U. S. troops are bound to peter out. Much of the reason they are staying here will be gone.”
Conservatives in South Korea bristle at such a possibility, arguing that a withdrawal would expose their country to potential foes far stronger than North Korea, like China and Japan, which have invaded numerous times over the centuries. South Koreans reacted to Washington’s past attempts to pull out troops with calls for arming the country with nuclear weapons of its own.

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