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Trump Orders Pentagon to Consider Reducing U.S. Forces in South Korea

For years, the American presence has been more important as a symbol of deterrence than as a fighting force. At their current levels, the troop numbers are down by about a third from the level in the 1990s.

As the South Koreans have become a premier fighting force — with their own special operations forces, the ability to oppose the North’s artillery along the Demilitarized Zone and now their own cyberforces — they have become less dependent on the United States. Most American troops have pulled back to well south of Seoul.

Since President George Bush removed tactical nuclear weapons from South Korea in the early 1990s, the nuclear deterrent against the North has been based far away, in missile silos on the continental United States, submarines in the Pacific or bombers based on Guam.

Mr. Trump is not the first president to push for troop reductions. Jimmy Carter ran for office on a promise to withdraw all ground combat forces, in part to protest South Korea’s autocratic government at the time. Resistance from the military and Congress stymied his efforts. In 2004, George W. Bush’s defense secretary, Donald H. Rumsfeld, shifted nearly 10,000 troops from South Korea to the Iraq war.

During the Obama administration, former officials said, the Pentagon was always reluctant to consider troop reductions or the suspension of joint military exercises when the White House talked about potential pathways to ridding North Korea of its weapons.

“It would be foolish to give any of that away early in discussions, given the long North Korean track record of breaking agreements,” said Christine Wormuth, a former top Defense Department policy official in the Obama administration.

Mr. Trump, however, has long argued that America’s military presence is not an asset but a liability — not just in South Korea but in Japan as well. As both countries became wealthy, he said, they should have taken on more of the burden for their defense. During the 2016 presidential campaign, he even suggested that the two nations acquire their own nuclear weapons so they did not have to depend on the American nuclear umbrella.

Source: NYT > World

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