In-Depth: Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) introduced this bill to protect and reinforce the U.S.-ROK alliance. In a letter to his congressional colleagues seeking cosponsors for this bill, Rep. Gallagher wrote:
“This bill builds upon and strengthens language in the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act to ensure the United States maintains a robust military presence on the Korean Peninsula. The bill includes a sense of Congress about the importance of treaty alliances and a forward-deployed force in the Indo-Pacific, while making clear that Congress should be consulted well in advance of any significant change to the status quo on the Peninsula. Most importantly, the bill limits funding for a withdrawal from South Korea. This limitation blocks a withdrawal of US forces below 22,000 unless the Secretary of Defense certifies that South Korea would be fully capable of defending itself following the withdrawal, that the reduction was coordinated in consultation with US allies, and that the withdrawal supports National Defense Strategy requirements.”
In an interview on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” Rep. Gallagher spoke about the need for caution on North Korea going forward:
“ I understand that we're pursuing something that may be more important in the short term, which is the dismantlement of [North Korea’s] nuclear program. And I hope the administration is successful. But our best chance to resolve [the North Korea problem] peacefully will be produced if we maintain the policy of maximum pressure and maintain a credible military deterrent. And that's why I think Congress has an important role to play. Congress can make it clear that our presence on the Korean Peninsula is not negotiable, that that's as much about countering the immediate threat posed by the Kim regime as it is countering China's long-term threat. And we won't be hamstrung in terms of our ability to work with our allies in the region and pursue our interests strategically yet aggressively.”
David Maxwell, a 30-year US. Army veteran and retired Special Forces colonel who’s a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, argues that U.S. presence on the Korean Peninsula is the only thing keeping the peace in the region:
“It is essential for both sides to remember that the primary purpose of the alliance is to prevent war. The highest ranking North Korean defector, Hwang Jong Yop, said the only thing deterring an attack by the North is the presence of U.S. troops. Unlike Iraq and Afghanistan a war on the Korean peninsula will have global impact and the loss of blood and treasure will far surpass the 1950-53 conflict…. [U.S. troop’s immediate departure from the Korean Peninsula] would a be tragic and abrupt end to the ROK-U.S. strategic alliance. More worryingly, it could bring a tragic and abrupt start of a new conflict with North Korea, without the presence of a U.S. deterrent force.”
President Trump has signaled that he wants to draw down troops in the Korean Peninsula, as he’s complained that the cost of maintaining a military presence there is too high. Trump has complained that the U.S. isn’t adequately compensated for the cost of maintaining troops in the Korean Peninsula, that the troops are mainly protecting Japan, and that decades of U.S. military presence haven’t prevented North Korea from becoming a nuclear threat. He has also called military exercises in Korea “provocative war games,” and tweeted:
“We (the U.S.) are substantially subsidizing the Militaries of many VERY rich countries all over the world, while at the same time these countries take total advantage of the United States, and our TAXPAYERS, on Trade. General Mattis did not see this as a problem. I DO, and it is being fixed!”
Reportedly, top Trump administration officials have had to repeatedly convince the president not to withdraw troops from the Korean Peninsula. In May 2018, Trump ordered the Pentagon to prepare options for drawing down U.S. troops in South Korea.
In June 2018, a White House official noted that Trump’s desire to withdraw troops from the Korean Peninsula is rooted in fiscal, rather than strategic, concerns:
“The president has believed for 30 years that these alliance commitments are a drain on our finite national treasure. He doesn’t care about the intangible, he just sees the bottom line number of what it costs.”
Baohui Zhang, director of the Centre for Asian Pacific Studies at Lingnan University in Hong Kong, argues that it’s possible a withdrawal of U.S. ground troop presence on the Korean Peninsula wouldn’t significantly alter the balance of power in the region:
“U.S. military deterrence against both North Korea and China is based on long-range precision strikes by cruise missiles and stealth bombers. So a reduction of ground forces in South Korea may not make too much a difference.”
This year, the U.S., South Korea, and Japan have struggled to reach a compromise on renewing a defense cost-sharing agreement that expired at the end of 2018, reportedly due to the Trump administration demanding a significant increase in Seoul’s contributions. Under the previous agreement, South Korea paid for about half the cost of soldiers’ upkeep — over $800 million a year. The Trump administration is demanding that South Korea pay for nearly the entire cost of the U.S.’ military presence.
This bill has eight bipartisan cosponsors, including five Democrats and three Republicans.
Of Note: Currently, there are about 28,500 troops stationed on the Korean Peninsula to deter North Korean aggression — a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War that ended in an armistice, rather than a peace treaty.
Dan Coats, Director of National Intelligence, recently testified to Congress that the chances of a full North Korean denuclearization appear unlikely:
“We currently assess that North Korea will seek to retain its WMD [weapons of mass destruction] capabilities and is unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capability because its leaders ultimately view nuclear weapons as critical to regime survival.”
Trump isn’t the first president to push for troop reductions on the Korean Peninsula. Jimmy Carter ran for office on a promise to withdraw all ground combat forces, in part to protest South Korea’s then-autocratic government — but was stymied by resistance from the military and Congress. In 2004, George W. Bush’s defense secretary, Donald H. Rumsfeld, shifted nearly 10,000 troops from South Korea to the Iraq border.
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / Bumblee_Dee)