Trump’s troop pullout in Syria unlikely to lead to USFK disarray
Washington is implementing a full military withdrawal from northern Syria amid cries of “betrayal” from its Kurdish “allies” and even signs that the invasion there by Turkey could fuel a broader war.
The decision has also raised debate in South Korea that U.S. President Donald Trump could “mistreat” Seoul in a similar fashion and potentially lose one of the U.S.’ long standing allies in Asia, according to military sources, Monday.
Other sources noted it was unlikely that Washington and Seoul will begin discussions anytime soon on a possible timeline for the removal of any of the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK), as the two share “common security objectives” in Northeast Asia.
But they said the issue could be touched upon depending on the level of progress of talks aimed at dismantling North Korea’s nuclear program, as Trump regards the USFK as a “bargaining chip” in the denuclearization dialogue.
Also, Trump is said to have demanded that Korea increase its cost-sharing for U.S. troops stationed here to about $5 billion a year by including funding for the deployment of bombers and other strategic assets during exercises.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington is committed to dealing with security challenges around the world while protecting religious minorities, during an interview with U.S. broadcaster WZTV, late last week.
In an apparent move to downplay the significance of the decision on Syria, Pompeo said the U.S. has built “a coalition all across the world” to denuclearize North Korea, and this has secured “unanimous support at the U.N. Security Council,” which was evidence of such efforts.
From South Korea’s perspective, as working-level talks between Washington and Pyongyang held in Stockholm, Oct. 5, ended without substantial results, experts said it is unlikely the U.S. will decrease its “extended deterrence” for the South in the near future.
Kim Hyun-wook, a professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy’s Department of American Studies, told The Korea Times that a reduction in the USFK was “not an ideal bargaining chip for the U.S. at this point.”
He added, “The U.S. could bring up this issue only if it makes significant progress in the denuclearization of North Korea.”
Kim said there are concerns, especially among Korean conservatives, that Trump’s unpredictability could result in a promise to North Korea to withdraw or reduce the USFK.
However, Trump would have to deal with a strong backlash from U.S. lawmakers who oppose any reduction in the country’s extended deterrence, Kim said. This would come on top of the risk of impeachment trump is facing for asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son.
U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun commented that the Trump administration would give itself “a lot more options,” to address the North Korea nuclear threat.
Yoon Sang-hyun, chief of the National Assembly Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee, also said Washington was not going to use the withdrawal of USFK troops as “a bargaining chip” in working-level talks with Pyongyang. But he added there was the possibility it could be brought up as the nuclear negotiations develop.
Kim Geun-sik, a professor at Kyungnam University’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies, said the idea of scaling back the USFK could also have been raised by the Moon Jae-in administration as it pushed forward with the President’s peace process initiative for the Korean Peninsula.
“South Korea is superior to North Korea in terms of conventional forces, while the North is superior to the South in nuclear power,” Kim said. “Reducing the number of USFK troops could bring forward risk to Seoul’s security.”
Park Won-gon, an international relations professor at Handong Global University, said it is likely the Moon administration is considering a reduction in the USFK if Washington raises the issue first.
“It would be natural that any changes to the role of USFK would be on the agenda during discussions on the peace process the current administration is pushing,” Park said.
This Oct. 4 photo, released by North Korea’s state-run Korean Central Television shows North Korean residents reading the country’s ruling Workers’ Party of Korea newspaper Rodong Sinmun Oct. 3 edition which highlighted the North’s test launch of its new Pukguksong-3 submarine-launched ballistic missile off the coast of Wongsan, Kangwon Province, the day before.