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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on July 21)

Editorials from Korean Dailies 07:10 July 21, 2020

Don't undermine alliance
Trump should refrain from unilateral troop cut

It is not the first time that the U.S. government under President Donald Trump has floated the idea of reducing U.S. troops in South Korea. But a recent report is heightening concern that Washington might put such an idea unilaterally into action.

The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that the Pentagon has offered the White House options to lower U.S. troop levels in its Asian ally. The newspaper quoted unnamed officials as saying the options were presented in March as part of a broader review of options for withdrawing forces from Europe, the Middle East, Asia and other parts of the world.

The journal added that the Department of Defense had come up with broad ideas in December after the presidential office requested the review last fall. We do not know whether the report is true or not, because no U.S. officials have confirmed it. As the paper reported, no decision has yet been made to draw down the size of U.S. Forces Korea (USFK). The current number is estimated at 28,500.

The U.S. options may not come as a surprise. The impulsive and unpredictable U.S. president has vowed ― or threatened in some cases ― to pull out forces from conflict-torn countries such as Syria and Afghanistan or cut troop levels. Basically, Trump wants to bring U.S. troops home under his "America first" policy, believing that maintaining a troop presence overseas is too costly for the U.S.

In this context, Trump decided in June to reduce U.S. troops in Germany from 34,500 to 25,000 by September. As a reason for the reduction, he cited Germany's failure to increase its defense budget and pay more for the U.S. military presence there. No one can rule out the possibility of Trump taking a similar approach to South Korea.

In fact, Trump has continued to put pressure on Seoul to take a greater financial share for the upkeep of the USFK. He has wrongly accused South Korea of having been a free rider in the defense alliance with the U.S. He should realize that Seoul has been sharing the cost with Washington since 1991. Last year alone, the South paid $870 million. However, Trump unabashedly asked for more than a fivefold increase to $5 billion, and more recently has demanded an increase of 50 percent to $1.3 billion.

By any standards, his demands are excessive. Thus, the negotiations for the Special Measures Agreement (SMA) have been bogged down since Trump turned down Seoul's proposal to raise its payment by 13 percent this year from 2019.

It would be wrong if Trump plays the troop drawdown card to force Seoul to accommodate its unwarranted demands. Even many members of Congress, both Republican and Democrat, are strongly against any U.S. troop cut in South Korea. A unilateral troop reduction could only undermine the bilateral alliance aimed at deterring North Korean threats. It would also be detrimental to the U.S.' own interests in its Indo-Pacific strategy.
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