U.S. Rethinks Troops

From the June 2003 Trumpet Print Edition

The United States is considering a major restructuring of its forces on the Korean peninsula. On April 8 and 9, U.S. and South Korean officials held their first in a series of talks over the possible move.

Both sides have agreed to move the U.S.’s Yongsan base out of downtown Seoul—a city becoming more heavily urbanized, creating obvious tactical disadvantages for the troops—and moving the base southward within the country.

But this move away from the most heavily guarded border in the world comes at an unusual time—when the North has been boasting of its nuclear weapons program.

What’s more, if the world’s only superpower decreases its military presence in Asia, the balance of power will inevitably be affected.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the necessity of U.S. troops on the Korean Peninsula has been debated—especially as relations improve between North and South Korea. The U.S. still sees advantages to having some troops in Korea. Their presence, from Washington’s perspective, provides a deterrent for China and, more so, for an increasingly dangerous North.

However, since last summer, in the streets of Seoul, many emotionally charged public protests have demanded the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

South Korea has made more headway on its own in dealing with its northern brethren than has the U.S. In fact, many Koreans see the U.S. presence as hindering improvement in North-South relations.

This is undoubtedly leading to a reduced military presence on the peninsula and will ultimately redefine the geopolitical landscape of East Asia—a structure that, since World War ii, had the U.S., Japan and South Korea forming one alliance, and China, Russia and North Korea forming another.

The power void left in Asia would encourage Taiwan and Japan to further increase their military capabilities in the region. The U.S. and Japan are already considering the prospect of the drawdown of American troops on Okinawa. Any reduction of the U.S. presence in the Sea of Japan would open the door for Russia to spread its wings in that region. The prospect of a China-Russia-Japan alliance thus looms on the horizon.