In-Depth: Rep. Ami Bera (D-CA) introduced this bill to evaluate the possibility of U.S. force reduction on the Korean peninsula.
Jeff Faux, founder of and now a distinguished fellow at the Economic Policy Institute, argues that it’s time for the U.S. to withdraw from the Korean Peninsula:
“We claim that we are there to defend South Korea. But a nuclear attack on the South makes no sense. Seoul and Pyongyang are only a two-hour drive apart. Nuclear war anywhere in Korea would contaminate the whole peninsula… One clue as to why our troops are still garrisoned in South Korea lies in the panic that spread through the US foreign-policy establishment when South and North Korea recently began their own bilateral talks and agreed to march into the 2018 Olympics under one flag. Instead of seeing this as a positive step toward peace, American leaders—Democrats as well as Republicans—were alarmed that it was driving a ‘wedge’ between the United States and South Korea. By putting pressure on Washington to negotiate, reported the Times, ‘the breach between South Korea and the United States could become a chasm.’ Thus, from Washington’s perspective, avoiding nuclear war is less a priority than maintaining its influence in that part of the world… So far the narrative of fear has stopped an honest political debate that would expose these ‘vital American interests’ for what they are.”
Doug Bandow, a foreign affairs analyst who worked in the Reagan White House, argues that South Korea is now strong enough to defend itself, and the U.S. no longer needs to be present in the Korean Peninsula to protect it:
“[The U.S. presence is] no longer necessary… [T]oday, South Korea has something around 45 times the GDP [and] about twice the population of the North, so there's no reason why the South cannot build a military sufficient to deter and somehow defeat, if necessary, the North."
Within South Korea, a fringe minority of peace activists has called for the removal of U.S. troops for decades, calling them an affront to South Korea’s sovereignty and an obstacle to peace. This opinion is largely in line with North Korea’s consistent position in calling for U.S. troops’ removal. South Korea’s Minjung Party, a left-leaning party with a single seat in the 300-seat National Assembly, backs immediate withdrawal. The party’s spokesman, Shin Chang-hyeon, says:
“The leaders of North and South have declared an era of peace. The raison d’être of the U.S. troops here has disappeared. We have an issue with any foreign military staying in South Korea.”
Victor Cha, who was an Asian affairs adviser to President George W. Bush, contends that the U.S.’ presence in the Korean Peninsula is an important commitment:
“Whether we like it or not, since the end of World War II, the United States has been a Pacific power in Asia that has maintained its credibility and its commitments to governments in the region by our troop presence there… [T]hat has been the nature of the U.S. commitment to show that we will be there to protect sea lanes to prevent the rise of another hegemon in the region, and that has stabilized not just the politics of the region but also the markets."
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis concurs with this view, telling a group of lawmakers that the U.S.’ presence in the Korean Peninsula is “a stabilizing presence” that “resonates among allies.”
Generally, South Korean leadership supports continued U.S. presence on the Korean peninsula. Kim Eui-kyeom, a spokesman for the presidential Blue House, citing President Moon Jae-in, calls U.S. troops stationed in South Korea “an issue regarding the alliance between South Korea and the United States.” Seoul has also expressed that it wants U.S. troops to stay because they play the role of a mediator in military confrontations between neighboring superpowers like China and Japan.
Of Note: President Jimmy Carter raised the idea of removing U.S. troops from the Korean Peninsula in the 1970s, partly as a way to save money. His advisers strongly opposed the idea.
Summary by Lorelei Yang
(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / ByoungJoo)