[OUTLOOK]Delay the U.S. troop pulloutForeign policy is usually not an issue in the U.S. presidential elections.
But the issue of bringing U.S. soldiers stationed overseas back home has risen as a hot issue in the coming elections. President George W. Bush announced on Aug. 16 a plan to withdraw about 70,000 U.S. soldiers stationed overseas over the next 10 years. The Democrats instantly protested.
According to the U.S. Department of Defense, 30,000 soldiers in Germany will be sent home, leaving only one brigade of around 5,000 soldiers in the country. In South Korea, the U.S. government plans to withdraw about 12,500 troops.
The German government welcomed the announcement saying that the plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Germany was proof that Europe had overcome the disruption of World War II, and yet the government was deeply concerned about what effect the departure of U.S. troops would have on the German economy. They also did not forget to thank the U.S. soldiers for all they have done for the country over the years.
Korea has a different perspective. In Germany, U.S. troop strength is being cut after reunification, but Korea is still divided and it is not clear why U.S. forces in Korea should be reduced while the nation is still divided. In addition, despite the plan to pull out a significant number of U.S. forces stationed in Korea, the Korean government is not expressing any solid views on the matter. The Korean government just seems to be repeating the words of the U.S. Department of Defense, which says that the deterrent capability of the U.S. forces will remain as strong as ever. Of course, it is true that behind the plan to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Korea there is a major premise that battle performance can be enhanced even if the number of soldiers is reduced, due to the development of modern wea-pons and communications capabilities. But there are some problems with this premise.
First, what we need here on the Korean Peninsula is war deterrence, not a defense capability. Defense is the skill of minimizing damage once a war has started, but deterrence is preventing a war from breaking out. Defense is physical, but deterrence is psychological. In other words, deterrence is making North Korea think that it would suffer horrible destructive damage if they start a war so that they would not want to start one.
In order for deterrence to work, North Korea has to be made to believe that the United States would launch retaliatory attacks if the North invaded South Korea. The problem is how North Korea will interpret the U.S. decision to drastically reduce the number of troops stationed in South Korea, troops who have been an effective deterrent against the outbreak of a war. Such a drastic reduction could send North Korea a wrong signal, especially at a time like this, when the United States is trying to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear development program.
I asked a question of a senior official of the U.S. Department of Defense in the middle of July.
Was the decision to reduce the U.S. troops stationed in Korea simply based on the Global Posture Review, or was it because of the anti-U.S. sentiment of the Korean people? The official claimed the former to be the reason, but could not totally deny the latter either. The decision to reshape the U.S. military and its content to fit new military technology is fundamentally part of the Global Posture Review, but the decision to reduce U.S. forces in Korea at a sensitive time with the North Korean nuclear problem might well be an emotional reaction to the anti-U.S. sentiment in Korea for the most part.
In other words, since Korea did not appear to believe the standard words the Americans use that “the U.S. will not station soldiers in countries where they are not welcome,” the United States seems to have decided to teach South Korea a lesson by reducing the number of soldiers in the country despite the fact that this is a very bad time.
If North Korea picks up on any political background like this to the reduction of soldiers in Korea, the war-deterring strength of the U.S. forces in Korea can only become weaker. If the strength to deter North Korea weakens, our national security naturally becomes unstable. Therefore, the United States needs to make it clear that the decision to reduce U.S. troops in Korea was one that was made possible because Korea and the United States had the same view. They cannot give the impression that the decision was made despite the opposition of the South Korean government. Also, it would be wise to postpone the return of the soldiers from Korea for a while. This withdrawal should not be allowed to become a disturbance to the nuclear negotiations with North Korea.
* The writer, a former ambassador to the United States, is a professor emeritus at Korea University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Kyung-won