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(EDITORIAL from The Korea Times on Aug. 25)

All Headlines 06:52 August 25, 2016

Reducing USFK
Big holes in Trumpian military minimalism

It's not just Donald Trump who talks about South Korea, Japan and Europe being freeloaders on billions of dollars of U.S. taxpayer money spent on protecting them. Now the U.S. Republican presidential nominee's isolation bug is being regurgitated into the U.S. Congress, one notable member pushing for a reduction of the U.S. military commitment to helping South Korea deter North Korea.

Of course, the logic behind the latest claim, made by the House Armed Services Committee chairman, Rep. Mac Thornberry, is filled with elements of solipsism and cognitive dissonance. Still, it very much reflects a growing trend for the U.S. military to resort to minimalism in the age of a budgetary cliff and fatigue from long wars in the Middle East.

Korea needs to adjust itself to this trend that is possible to prevail in the U.S. groupthink irrespective of whether Trump or Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton wins in November.

The Republican committee chairman sings the same song as Trump. In his contribution to the magazine Foreign Affairs, Thornberry promotes an increase in Korea's ground forces, which, on the flip side, means a reduction in U.S. Forces Korea (USFK), when taken in the context of his assertion for more focus on fighting Islamic fundamentalism.

He favors tightening sanctions against the North as the solution to its growing nuclear and missile threat. He signs on the Trumpian conclusion that Korea pays too little for its size ― twice the population of the North and with an economy 10 times the size of its adversary.

Regarding his call for downsizing the military, it should be noted that the 2nd Infantry Division, the mainstay of USFK, is emasculated to the point that further downsizing will seriously weaken its war-stopping capabilities.

It has three brigades in Korea, with two mobile Stryker units on standby in the U.S.

Meanwhile, the current level of ROK troops at 510,000 can't be sustained because the nation's population of eligible males is decreasing and the popular belief here that Seoul takes on a fair share of the costs for having GIs. These factors appear hard to reconcile. Unless the two countries find a midway solution, it would mean a challenge to their alliance ― compromising their readiness against the North and causing a fissure in the U.S. containment policy of China. For Seoul and Washington, it is worthy of note that when U.S. troops were pulled out of the South, it resulted in the 1950-1953 Korean War, which ended in a 60-year stalemate at a huge tab for Korea and the U.S., with the balance of power still a toss-up. For certain, Thornberry wouldn't want to be Dean Acheson, the secretary of state who was as responsible as anybody for the outbreak of the war that killed and maimed 2 million people. Among them were about 34,000 U.S. soldiers killed in action.

Thornberry's sanctions-only approach is also shortsighted as it would be a continuation of the Obama administration's "strategic patience," a.k.a do-nothing policy.

During Obama's eight years so far, three out of the North's four nuclear tests have taken place, along with numerous long-range missile tests. Now, the North is seen as being close to hurling a miniaturized nuclear warhead on a reliable delivery system at U.S. territory. Obviously, the sanctions alone don't work.

The concept of Thornberry's suggestion is understandable under constrained resources but may prove to be the case of penny wise, pound foolish. After all, it runs the risk of alienating the allies and puts the U.S. global policy on a wobbly path ― unless the U.S. wants to follow Trump's lead and walk into the cave.

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